Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt was heckled and jeered by angry nurses yesterday, which left her unable to finish a speech at the Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) annual conference.

Delegates drowned out her comments with shouts of "enough" and "resign" as she tried to speak about progress in the NHS.

She told them she understood staff were concerned about losing their jobs, adding: "I know that you're angry about the possibility of redundancies among some hospital staff.

"Anybody facing the prospect of redundancy is entitled to feel that."

But her comments were met with boos and hissing and loud laughter when she tried to explain that most of the NHS was not in deficit.

As the sounds of dissent grew and slow hand clapping began, Ms Hewitt said: "We can listen to each other or not - it's entirely up to you. I would like to listen to you and I would like you to listen to me."

After receiving a frosty reception at the Unison conference in Gateshead on Monday, this was her second major speech in a week.

Yesterday in Bournemouth, she faced about 2,000 nurses dressed in Tshirts with the slogan "Keep Nurses Working, Keep Patients Safe".

She said: "This is a very challenging time in the NHS and for everybody working in it.

"We all have to be honest and realistic about the challenges we face and the tough decisions we have to make."

There was a rare smattering of applause after Ms Hewitt referred to the passing of the blanket smoking ban, which was supported by the RCN.

But when she talked about reorganising rotas to make better use of permanent staff, her comments were met with loud laughter, booing, hissing and shouts of "resign" and "shame".

Ms Hewitt said more needed to be done to support staff losing their jobs to get new ones.

But delegates shouted "Where? Where?" and "Put your speech away". She was unable to finish her speech as delegates drowned her out with shouts of "Enough, enough, enough".

The chairman Dave Nunn asked Ms Hewitt if she would give way.

He said: "Are you finished yet... because you stated there are a few questions you wanted to take?"

At several points during the question and answer session Ms Hewitt was forced to stop and wait for noise to die down inside the Bournemouth International Centre.

She complained that delegates would "shout" whatever she told them.

"I'm sorry if you don't like the answers. But at least let me give them."

Ms Hewitt said she knew nurses were upset about the pay packets of some GPs, who are reportedly earning around #250,000.

She insisted the average pay for GPs was well below that level, but added that the money reflected extra work they were carrying out.

Ms Hewitt's speech came on the day that the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said up to 450 jobs would go over the next 12 months to tackle a #14.8 million shortfall.

Weston General Hospital in Weston-super-Mare also said it was closing 56 beds and cutting 60 jobs to deal with a #6 million overspend. ..SUPL: