Alan Milburn's decision to resign as health secretary was greeted with cheers and applause by doctors.
Alan Milburn oversaw reform of the NHS
GPs attending a British Medical Association meeting in London were told of the resignation minutes after it became public.
Mr Milburn resigned on Thursday after being in charge of the department since October 1999.
He had seen through a series of reforms of the NHS.
Nizam Mamode, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's Consultants' Committee - which has been heavily involved in negotiating a new contract for senior doctors - welcomed the announcement.
"This is good news for us. It is certainly true that Milburn's position on renegotiating the contract was a major problem," he told BBC News Online.
There will be a vacuum
Dr Michael Dixon, NHS Alliance
"He was capable, and was reasonably bright.
"His problem was that he didn't have the flexibility that was necessary and he had the perception that doctors were part of the problem."
Dr Laurence Buckman, a leading member of the BMA's GPs committee, said: "He was a very clever man and a very good fundraiser for the NHS. But he had a very combative style."
Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the BMA added: "I have worked with Alan Milburn for four years now though challenging
times within the health service.
"I fully understand his reasons for resigning. As doctors we know too well how difficult it is to balance the requirements of a pressurised job and family life."
He told the BBC: "Whereas he set the strategy correctly, he then attempted to deliver the strategy by interfering too much, by setting too many national strategies.
Dr Bogle criticised Mr Milburn's attempt to "manage the consulting room" from Whitehall.
"He shouldn't have tried to do the clinician's work, the health professional's work, from the Department of Health."
But Dr Michael Dixon, head of the primary care organisation the NHS Alliance said Alan Milburn had achieved a great deal in his time at the helm of the health service.
He said: "There will be a vacuum. He was a Colossus of the NHS.
"He's really been involved in an awful lot of the detail, not just setting policy, but in the day-to-day running.
"It is the knowledge he has of the system and why things are as they are, why people hold the positions they do, that was crucial.
"It will be very difficult for someone else to take on.
"They are going to be far more dependent on briefings from the civil service and from organisations like ours."
Dr Rhidian Morris, former leader of the GP fundholders - a scheme scrapped by Labour - said that despite having political differences with Mr Milburn, he considered him to be a first rate politician.
"The NHS is usually a graveyard of politicians. It is very difficult to go through the problems of the NHS and come out with your reputation enhanced, but he did.
"He was completely honourable, honest, a superb negotiator and under the ruthless mask he presented, there was a considerable human side to him."
Hospital managers said they were sad to see him go.
Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said: "I am sad to hear of Alan Milburn's resignation.
"His true passion about the NHS shone threw every time he spoke about the NHS."
She added: "The NHS will miss his powerful support and advocacy.
"He had an ability to ask a simple question that got the heart of the fundamental challenges facing the NHS."
We need to keep up the momentum on improving services for patients
Describing him as the "central architect of the NHS Plan", Ms Morgan said he had played a major role in helping the service turn the corner.
She added: "He had a powerful vision about a more devolved health service and a real understanding of the issues facing those at the NHS frontline and I hope that his successor will take this forward.
"On a personal level, I will miss working with him and his special blend of vision, passion and humour."
'Turning around the NHS'
Dr Beverly Malone, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said nurses had had a "useful and productive working relationship" with Alan Milburn.
She added: "We need to keep up the momentum on improving services for patients, and just as importantly putting nurses at the heart of decision making in healthcare."
Dave Prentis general secretary of health union Unison added: "Although we had some disagreements on the way forward, I believe Alan took very seriously the difficult job he had to do in turning round our NHS after 20 years of neglect.
"It's a shame he is leaving before that task is completed."
Professor Carol Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the college's dealings with Mr Milburn had been "robust and frank".