Two health workers are out to unseat left-wing MP Diane Abbott. Mark Gould looks at the campaign issues

For two women at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Pauline Dye and Meral Ece have a lot in common. Both are senior community health council officials, both think their area gets an unfair share of NHS resources and both think they can create one of the biggest upsets of the general election. Conservative Pauline Dye, deputy chief officer of East Herts CHC, and Liberal Democrat Meral Ece, chief officer of Haringey CHC, are standing against left-wing Labour MP Diane Abbott in the ultra-safe London seat of Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

Both women think voters are generally disappointed with four years of New Labour. On a local level they say people are seething with anger at decades of - mainly but not solely - Labour bungling which has seen Hackney hit the national headlines.

And both women say that, if elected, they would fight to see City and Hackney health authority receive an extra£20m which they agree has been robbed from its capitation allocation. 'Needy places like Hackney are losing out to areas in the north-east where [health secretary Alan] Milburn and [prime minister Tony] Blair have constituencies, ' says Ms Dye.

At a hustings in a community centre earlier this month, a worried audience asked if the NHS was safe under Labour or the Conservatives, given both parties' commitment to private hospital building and farming out more work to private hospitals.

Ms Dye said: 'There is no way any party would privatise the health service. ' And she reels off the list of Conservative health policies: scrap waiting lists, expand private health insurance, and the NHS/private sector concordat, and introduce a minor injury centre for every 10,000head of population.

She says her own experience as a CHC officer underlines the need for private insurance. 'We had a 67-year-old man who spent his life savings on a private kneereplacement operation because the NHS wait was 18 months. It would be better for everyone if he had some insurance scheme to pay for the private operation rather than spend his savings. '

She believes the abolition of CHCs was another example of Labour control-freakery. 'The fundamental difference is that Tories are for local control and Labour want central control - they tell local groups like primary care groups that you can have money, but you can only spend it on these things. '

If elected, Ms Dye wants to see two things: a moratorium on new initiatives and a return to the days when nursing sisters held supreme power. 'In the old days, when a sister said they wanted something done, whether cleaning, washing or repairs, it was done, rather than the situation now where the reply is ''It is not my job''. '

But does she have a hope of success in this multicultural borough given recent comments by, for example, Conservative MP John Townend, calling for curbs on immigration?

'What John Townend said was appalling, ' she says. 'It plays to the gallery of racism that does exist in society, especially among older people who have less experience of multicultural environments. In Hackney we have Muslims, orthodox Jews, black and white Catholics and Protestants. There is no way the party is racist, and no way I am. '

Meral Ece, a Lib Dem councillor for Hackney borough council, says she already has 'scars on her back' to prove that politics in the borough is 'poisonous and unpleasant'.

Formerly a Labour councillor in Hackney, she says she quit the party over the way the council handled the case of local Labour Party member and social worker Mark Trotter. Mr Trotter, who has since died, was HIV-positive when he assaulted children in his care.

Ms Ece thinks both Labour and the Conservatives are committed to privatisation, which means the NHS is safe only with the Lib Dems.

'The Health and Social Care Bill will give almost carte blanche for forcing through more privatisation. It is almost as if New Labour has become part of big business.

Why are they offering tax breaks to people on more than£100,000 when health services are collapsing and free nursing care is not available in England?

'We want high tax rates for people on£100,000. That would finance free nursing care and put a lot of people's minds at rest in a place like Hackney. '

Educated in Hackney, Ms Ece has a degree in health service management but started her working life in local government before moving to voluntary sector health promotion, particularly among the borough's Turkish community (her family are of Turkish origin). She says these jobs led 'almost automatically' into the CHC in Haringey - the borough just north of Hackney.

'I have worked in the CHC under the Tories and Labour and people are telling me they are not seeing any improvements coming through. We are committed to paying NHS staff more -£1,000 per year extra every year for nurses until we have a proper review of NHS pay which will establish fair rates. '

She said the Lib Dems were committed to more beds in the NHS. 'Queen Elizabeth Children's Hospital was closed with the promise of equal numbers of paediatric beds at the Royal London Hospital. That never happened.

Now you have sick kids being bussed all over the country for a paediatric intensive care bed. '

Like Pauline Dye, Ms Ece is angry about Hackney's£20m deficit. She says this means that rationing decisions are already being made in an area where GPs' lists are closed and asylum seekers and immigrants have pressing health needs. The situation for Hackney has been made worse by Labour sticking to Conservative spending plans for their first three years in office, she says.

'There is no ring-fenced money for mental health and the elderly around here when there is a huge problem. Having national service framework targets to meet when we are so stretched means something is bound to give. '