Published: 20/03/2003, Volume II3, No. 5847 Page 5

Senior managers have saluted junior health minister Lord Hunt as a 'man of integrity' in the wake of his ministerial resignation.

Lord Hunt quit on Tuesday, when he said war on Iraq without a United Nations mandate was probably 'the most critical issue that I have faced' politically.

The former NHS manager and first chief executive of the NHS Confederation was widely respected as a 'champion of managers' who had a deep understanding of the issues facing the NHS. His was the second resignation after that of leader of the Commons Robin Cook, and ahead of that of former health minister John Denham.

Lord Hunt joined the service in 1972 at Oxford regional hospital board, later becoming director of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts and then chief executive of the confederation. His ministerial portfolio included quality and performance, IT and counterfraud.

Confederation chief executive Gill Morgan said his commitment and 'deep understanding' of the service meant he was 'second to none' as a minister. 'He brought humanity, integrity, common sense and fun. It is a hell of a package.'

British Association of Medical Managers chief executive Jenny Simpson of said he was a 'powerful advocate for the NHS' who 'was always just Philip' to the service, regardless of his peerage in 1997.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman in the Lords Lord Clement-Jones said he had 'very mixed feelings' about his resignation. 'I applaud and support his very principled decision to stand down as a minister. But I do think We have lost a very well thought of health minister.'

NHS Information Authority chair Alastair Bellingham described Lord Hunt as a 'tremendous supporter of NHSIA' who 'was instrumental in developing the national programme for IT'.

But some sources in NHS IT questioned that contribution.

One suggested that Lord Hunt 'got out of his depth'when it came to IT, and contributed to 'a policy of chaos' inherited by IT czar Richard Granger.

Earlier, Scottish health minister Malcolm Chisholm caused a stir by announcing publicly that he had behaved immorally by voting with the Scottish Executive in support of prime minister Tony Blair's policy on Iraq. Mr Chisholm, a leftwinger, grabbed a megaphone from an anti-war demonstrator outside his constituency office in Edinburgh on Saturday to say he bitterly regretted putting loyalty to Executive colleagues before his own belief in what was right.

He said he had intended to vote with an anti-war amendment, but was 'prevailed upon not to'.

'On reflection, I put loyalty to my colleagues before what I knew to be right. Ultimately, I think That is an immoral thing to do.'

First minister Jack McConnell has said his ministers do not have to toe the line on what is essentially a matter for Westminster.