GPs could be given responsibility to manage the costs of their patients' care, under plans outlined by the Conservatives.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (pictured) said GPs would have a direct incentive to buy the best services as they could keep any savings to reinvest in care. Mr Lansley pledged that the Tories would drive efficiency in the NHS by allowing charities and private groups with the necessary standards to compete for services.
Delivering equity, efficiency and excellence in the NHS was a great challenge "at a time of crisis in our public finances", Mr Lansley told Policy Review Magazine.
Health Minister Mike O'Brien said: "Audit Commission research published in November showed that NHS acute and specialist trusts are becoming increasingly efficient.
"The NHS in 1997 was understaffed; therefore, increasing the number of staff to the level it is now was our first priority," said Mr O'Brien.
"Over the years we have invested in an extra 40,000 doctors and 80,000 extra nurses as well as over 100 new hospitals and almost 100 GP health centres."