David Cameron has promised that online health records will underpin a new direction for the NHS if the Conservative Party is elected in this year’s general election.

In a speech at Westminster today, the Tory leader unveiled the first chapter of the Conservative Party’s draft manifesto, which focuses on the health service.

Cameron said: “It’s the patient who’ll have the power in our NHS. You’ll be able to check your health records online in the same way you do your bank account.

“We will put patients in charge of their own health records, with the ability to choose which providers they share them with.”

The pledge follows speculation last year that the Conservatives might scrap aspects of the National Programme for IT in the NHS and introduce commercial health record platforms instead.

The manifesto gives no information on whether companies such as Microsoft and Google would be involved in devliering on the pledge if the party comes to power.

It does say the Tories would “unleash an information revolution in the NHS by making detailed data about the performance of trusts, hospitals, GPs, doctors and other staff available to the public online so everyone will know who is providing a good service and who is falling behind.”

Cameron added: “You’ll have information about how good different doctors are, how good different hospitals are, information about the things that really matter, like cancer survival rates, the rate of hospital infections, your chance of going home to live independently if you have a stroke.”

The speech coincided with the launch of a public poster campaign promising that the Conservatives will not cut NHS funding. 1,000 posters will be put up featuring a picture of Cameron alongside the words “We can’t go on like this. I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS.”

The manifesto includes sections that suggest the Conservatives are anxious about being seen as a party of the rich.

It pledges to introduce a ‘health premium’ that will divert money to the most deprived areas of the country, and which councils and public health officials will be able to use to tackle health inequalities.

It says the Conservatives would introduce maternity networks to improve services. Yet other sections of the manifesto echo the introduction of the ‘internal market’ to the NHS.

It says the party would give GPs the power to hold patients’ budgets and commission care on their behalf and create an independent NHS board to allocate resources to different parts of the country.

Cameron said: “We’re going to introduce a health premium that targets resources on the poorest areas so we banish health inequalities to history. With our plans, the poorer the area, the worse the health outcomes tend to be, so the more money they can get.”

The manifesto sees the start an election campaign, which could last as long as five months.

Link: Conservative’s Draft Manifesto 2010: Chapter One: Our reform plan for the NHS