Published: 07/10/2004, Volume II4, No. 5926 Page 6

A Conservative government would appoint a secretary of state for public health and an independent public health commission, the party's conference heard on Tuesday.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said that public health had become 'fragmented' and a low priority.

He told delegates: 'In tomorrow's NHS I will be the secretary of state for public health. Public health will be my personal priority.'

Mr Lansley said an independent public health commission would 'gather the evidence' and make recommendations about public health interventions.

He also restated Conservative policy that by the end of 2005 every patient 'will be able to book where they want their operation anywhere in the country on the NHS, ' a policy which he described as 'real choice'.

And Mr Lansley stressed the importance of freeing NHS professionals from central control: 'If we energise the system, if we give hospitals the ability to manage themselves we will see new hospitals being set up.'

The Conservatives also agreed a new policy on dentistry. Under the party's action plan, dentists would be paid for the number of patients on their books rather than billing for each treatment.

Patients would also be able to pay a monthly fee to avoid sudden large payments.

Mr Lansley told delegates: 'Today, fewer people - and fewer children - are registered for NHS dentistry than in 1997. In a reformed NHS, instead of Mr Blair's failed promise to give everyone the chance to see an NHS dentist, Conservatives will give patients the means and dentists the incentive to put NHS dentistry back on the high street.'

The shadow health secretary also outlined his timetable for reform if the Conservatives win the general election. He said targets would be abolished on his first day as health secretary, and promised that legislation to free the NHS from Whitehall control would be introduced within one month.