A Conservative government would create employee partnership models within the NHS to improve staff engagement and patient care, delegates heard.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said community healthcare would be based on a John Lewis-style partnership model, so that staff took collective ownership of the service they delivered.

This would deliver better relationships between the NHS, local authorities and voluntary organisations, creating new social enterprises and improving patient care. “You get all the benefits of employee engagement and the innovation that comes with ownership and service in the community sector,” he added.

Lansley outlined Tory proposals to reduce administration costs across PCTs, NHS quangos and strategic health authorities by a third over the next four years – saving £1.2 billion.

Given that the cost of admin and clerical staff in PCTs had risen by 80 per cent between 2005 and 2008, while the same private-sector costs had gone down, he said: “Reducing these costs in organisations that administer the health service is not remotely excessive.” He added: “I thought I would be challenged for not being sufficiently ambitious. It’s not a cut at all.”

Under a Conservative government, medical professionals and front-line staff would be empowered to make more decisions at a local level while central government “interference and day-to-day control” would be reduced, Lansley told delegates.

“We can’t have some of the best qualified people in the world treated as though they are just on the end of a production line,” he said.

While admitting the NHS needed to change, Lansley pledged to stop the “obsessive organisational upheaval” that had dogged the service under the Labour government, and prevented it from increasing productivity. He added that the Tories would also not change the underlying values of the NHS.

“We need to make sure people feel confident the service is going to be there when they need it, for free and not based on their ability to pay,” he said.

The Conservatives have already pledged to freeze public sector pay in 2011 and 2012, but Lansley said this did not mean they would abandon national pay review bodies in the health service. He said the panels played an “instrumental” advisory role, although every organisation should also have the flexibility to adapt their own pay systems so as to recruit and retain the people they wanted.

Lansley also said the Tories would abolish national targets to focus more on patient outcomes.