By Nick Golding, political editor
The Conservatives are poised to give councils a new role in the commissioning of health services in a bid to make the NHS more accountable.
Stephen Dorrell MP, co-chair of the party's public service policy improvement group, said: 'There's less tolerance of diversity in local outcomes in the NHS than there is in services delivered by local, elected authorities.
'We are looking at how to enhance local democratic accountability.'
The former health secretary continued: 'The potential role for local government in a more catholic set of commissioning arrangements is one of the specific issues that interests me.
'The idea commissioning has to be [done by] bureaucrats in a primary care trust, independent of local government and independent of all external influence, [is one] we have to move away from.'
Mr Dorrell refused to be drawn on specific policies to ensure local democratic input but he said ensuring local and individual choice over services would be as crucial to the next Tory government as rebuilding the economy had been to Margaret Thatcher.
He was supported by Local Government Association chairman Lord Bruce-Lockhart, a recent appointee to the group.
Lord Bruce-Lockhart said councils should have a role in determining future health service configurations, and questioned whether the move towards fewer, bigger hospitals was a wise one.
But he continued: 'I don't think we [will] have a role in setting objectives on drugs and that side of things but when you come to community health and health improvement, we are partners.'
Last week Chancellor Gordon Brown suggested he would be keen to see an independent board given day-to-day control of the NHS, but those close to him said it was too early to suggest how local accountability should be promoted.