DAVID Cameron visited Stroud to discuss Conservative plans for NHS reform on Monday – only hours after revealing the party’s draft health manifesto for the general election.
The leader of the opposition spoke to staff at Rowcroft Medical Centre as the first stop on his campaign tour after laying down the gauntlet for Labour at a speech in Westminster.
Mr Cameron toured the centre, discussed local health issues and pitched his plans to GPs and nurses. Speaking to the press, Mr Cameron said the NHS was his ‘number one priority’ and health funding would be ‘ring fenced’ under Tory plans.
Among his policies is to introduce ‘maternity networks’, bringing together, under one organisational structure, all the maternity services in one area, including local hospitals, GPs, charities and community groups.
"We plan to have maternity networks to try to stop the remorseless centralising down towards bigger and bigger baby factories," he said.
"What we want is to have maternity networks so that mums can choose whether they want to have a baby in a small midwife-led hospital or, if there are issues or risks, they ought to be able to go to a larger district hospital."
He stressed that Stroud Maternity Hospital would be safe under the plans providing community support remained strong.
Another of his plans is to introduce a ‘health premium’ which would target extra money to the poorest areas to reduce health inequalities.
Mr Cameron allayed fears the reforms would create a ‘two-tier NHS', insisting it would be a ‘one-tier service with choice for everyone’.
He also dismissed a claim by chancellor Alistair Darling that there was a £34bn gap in Tory spending plans.
Mr Cameron praised Neil Carmichael, prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Stroud, and hoped he would triumph at the election.
Mr Carmichael said: "I am delighted to have his support.
"We have got something to celebrate in the constituency with health but these policies will improve this still further."
Dr Thornton MacCallum, senior partner at Rowcroft, said: "Mr Cameron seemed to know what he was talking about which was refreshing.
"I was reassured that he is keen to maintain the importance of general practice, primary health care and midwife-led units."
When Mr Cameron arrived at Stroud railway station, he helped 68-year-old Edna Parker, from Wotton-under-Edge, carry her luggage up the steps.
The BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson was among those who interviewed him at Rowcroft.
A group of about 20 anti-hunt protesters and Labour activists braved the freezing weather to demonstrate outside.
Some claim the Tories would repeal the hunting ban.
Mr Cameron’s next stop was Gloucester, where he answered questions at a public meeting.