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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 January 2008, 16:18 GMT
Tories 'should be party of NHS'
Mr Cameron at Trafford General Hospital
Mr Cameron visited Trafford General before the speech

The Conservatives have the chance to replace Labour as "the party of the NHS", Tory leader David Cameron says.

In a speech to mark the 60th year of the NHS, he pledged to "work tirelessly" in 2008 to achieve that.

And he outlined plans to tackle "super bugs", by fining hospitals per individual case, rather than for missing infection targets.

On Monday Gordon Brown signalled his intention for an NHS Constitution and major shake-up in 2008.

Mr Cameron was speaking after a visit to Manchester's Trafford General Hospital, which was the first to be opened as part of the newly-created NHS in 1948.

Earn trust

He said: "In this, the NHS's 60th year, the Conservative Party has an historic opportunity - to replace Labour as the party of the NHS.

"That's quite an aspiration - but I believe it is our duty to live up to it."

He said that the Labour government had "badly mismanaged" the NHS while a Conservative administration would "properly establish the NHS as an institution" - with an NHS Constitution.

I believe that Conservatives should never attack an institution which so many of our fellow countrymen and women look to as one of the great achievements of our past
David Cameron

Mr Cameron has long pledged to put the NHS at the top of his agenda. In his first big policy speech as Tory leader he vowed to defend the NHS and axed his party's previous proposal to subsidise patients to go private.

In his speech on Wednesday, he said: "There are many things that Conservatives would want to improve about the NHS.

"But I believe that Conservatives should never attack an institution which so many of our fellow countrymen and women look to as one of the great achievements of our past.

"It's an institution which embodies, in its very bricks and mortar, in its people, in its services, something which is great about Britain."

Fines per patient

He also said the government's plans for a "vast, centralised, NHS database" were potentially dangerous - instead patients should own their records and they should be stored locally by his or her GP.

And he turned his attention to tackling the thousands of cases of MRSA and Clostridium difficile in English hospitals.

He said targets for C Difficile are too broad and do not penalise hospitals for individual cases.

Hand washing
The Tories say infection targets are not effective

Instead he outlined plans for hospitals to lose part of their tariff for each patient, if that patient becomes infected as "a means of hard-wiring infection control into the system".

Under the plan, fines would be set by the economic regulator Monitor.

But health secretary Mr Johnson said Mr Cameron was proposing something that was already in legislation before Parliament.

He said: "We are already taking powers to fine poor performing hospitals, with the pledge to reinvest that money back into the local NHS."

He said scrapping government infection targets would encourage the NHS "to take its eye off the ball".

In October, the government announced that a new regulator, the Care Quality Commission, would be set up with the power to fine hospitals for infections.

And on Monday, in a New Year message to NHS staff, Gordon Brown signalled he intended to press ahead with an NHS Constitution, to set out the rights and responsibilities linked to health care.

And he said there were major changes ahead to "achieve our shared ambition of an NHS which is more personal and responsive to individual needs".

He talked of wanting to create an NHS which is "as good at prevention and keeping us healthy as it is at the care and the cures we know are there when we need them".

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