A former health secretary is battling a nurse, a dentist and a right-winger to become chairman of the health select committee.

Tory MPs Nadine Dorries, Stephen Dorrell, Peter Bone and Sir Paul Beresford are competing for the post under a new system that will see select committee chairmen voted in by MPs under a secret ballot rather than appointed.

Mr Dorrell was health secretary in John Major’s government from 1995-97 and also worked under former health secretary Ken Clarke during the internal market reforms of the early 1990s.

He told HSJ: “I’m sure [health secretary] Andrew Lansley has a very clear view of where he’s wanting to go but sometimes it’s seeing through the fog of battle that’s part of the value of a committee.”

He agreed with Mr Lansley that it was important to have a more “adult relationship” with health professionals and said management costs would be greatly reduced if clinicians were more involved in improving care.

He named his priorities as public health, commissioning and the long term care of the elderly.

In addition to longer term investigations, he hoped the committee would examine government decisions as they were announced.

He also wanted to scrutinise the pledge to increase NHS growth in real terms to ensure it was carried out.

Mr Dorrell’s 20 nominations include 15 from his own party, a Liberal Democrat and four Labour MPs – including former adviser to Patricia Hewitt Liz Kendall.

His Labour nominees also include Margaret Hodge, who is standing for the public accounts committee chairmanship against Hugh Bailey. Mr Bailey is also nominating Mr Dorrell.

Mr Bone, a member of the last health select committee, has strongly criticised the accountability of foundation trusts and told HSJ this was the sort of thing he would like the committee to look at.

He told HSJ it was “very bizarre” that a former minister might be put in the position of scrutinising policies he was responsible for. This was a “ludicrous use of the system,” he said.

He also said he did not think that being a former NHS employee was an advantage, saying it was a job for an outsider. Sir Paul Beresford is a dentist, while Nadine Dorries is a trained nurse.

The previous committee had too many doctors who “had their own agenda”, Mr Bone said.

And he questioned why MPs who had not chosen to sit on the health committee were now putting themselves forward. His nominees include Labour MPs Gisela Stuart and Chris Bryant.

Ms Dorries told HSJ she wanted to focus on maternal health, teenage mental health, depression and breast cancer.

She said: “I believe very much that the NHS has become institutionalised and has moved away from the patient. I have that experience as a nurse, patient and carer of elderly relatives.

“In a ward I went into recently there was almost hot-bedding taking place. A nurse said ‘we don’t have the time to talk to patients about what’s worrying them or to reassure them.’ That’s the kind of thing I’m interested in.”

A member of the Cornerstone Group of Tories supporting traditional conservative values, she has called for the upper limit for abortions to be cut from 24 to 20 weeks.

In a letter sent to MPs, she said in “no way whatsoever will I use the position in order to further my campaign of the last parliament, to reduce the upper limit at which abortion takes place.

“This is because my own personal belief in this area is beyond persuasion and I would find it very difficult to remain objective.

“Any report produced by a committee which I chaired regarding any area of abortion would be weakened by my chairmanship and subject to claims of bias, regardless of the evidence.”

She told HSJ the issue of abortion would not be discussed at all by the committee should she become chairman.

Like Mr Dorrell, she also said Ms Hodge was one of her 40 supporters, alongside other Labour MPs such as Keith Vaz.

Select committee ballots will be held tomorrow.