Conservative party leader David Cameron has launched a petition on the government to protect the National Health Service from spending cuts as he unveiled his party’s plans for the future direction of the service.

While conceding that tough decisions will need to be made on serious cuts in public spending, Cameron promised that the Conservatives will increase the flow of funds into the NHS every year to help protect frontline services and ensure that healthcare remains free at the point of delivery.

But he also stressed the urgent need for modification to give the health service a stronger footing to deal with the growing demands on its resources and address current failings. “When the gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in our country is now greater than at any time since Queen Victoria was on the throne…when deaths from hospital infections are more than three times higher than deaths on our roads…when you’re more likely to die of cancer in Britain than most other countries in Europe…the question isn’t whether the NHS should change, it’s how the NHS should change,” Cameron said.

“If we change nothing, and if productivity keeps falling at the rate it is today, then even with real-terms increases in spending we couldn’t hope to cope with the pressures on the NHS”, he warned, as he unveiled five key pledges that will help realise his vision for the service in a keynote speech at the Royal College of Pathologists yesterday morning.

First and foremost the party is flying the banner for a patient-led NHS, in which patients can choose between a wide range of public and independent sector providers where and when they receive treatment and, somewhat controversially, where they take control of their own medical records.

In addition, it plans to remove political interference from the NHS, leaving healthcare professionals in charge of delivering patient care “according to the demands of patients and in competition with other providers”, a move that will no doubt be popular with much of the sector.

Measuring health outcomes is also high on the agenda, which the Torys say they will implement by devolving decision-making to doctors and nurses and publishing extensive data about what providers achieve, making healthcare professionals “more accountable than ever for the results they achieve, but to patients not politicians”.

Following these key alterations to the NHS’ foundations, government action can then hone in on improving public health, Cameron said, including reforming long-term care to enable people to stay in their own homes and communities.

In addition, the party pointed out that the NHS spends £4.5 billion on administration, which, it claims, could cover the cost of 50,000 doctors – on administration alone, and so reiterated its pledge to slash the cost of health service central bureaucracy by a third, cutting the bill by £1.5 billion within four years.

"Labour wasted their first term in power by failing to reform. And now, after they had finally assumed the mantle of change in the NHS, they have lost their nerve and failed to go far and fast enough. With the publication of our priorities for the Department of Health today, we are ensuring we do not make the same mistakes", Cameron said.