The government has today hit back at the Conservatives' new health reform plans, saying their pledge to scrap NHS targets would result in an increase in MRSA.
Tory leader David Cameron used a speech to nurses this morning to attack ministers' record on tackling the hospital-acquired infection, which kills 5,000 people a year.
He warned that the emphasis on waiting times was threatening infection control in hospitals, and repeated his pledge to scrap existing targets in this area.
However, health minister Andy Burnham rejected this argument, branding Mr Cameron "irresponsible" and insisting that it was only when Labour introduced the MRSA target that rates began to fall.
"They have their limitations, but galvanising action around one key area can achieve real change in the service. The work on MRSA and C difficile is a clear example of how targets can improve the health of patients," he said.
The NHS has become a key battleground between Labour and the Tories, as Mr Cameron seeks to convince health staff and the public that the service would be safe in his hands.
Yesterday he and his health team pledged to focus on health outcomes rather than targets, and today reiterated this message in a speech praising the role of nurses in the NHS.
"Instead of judging the NHS on how much money goes into it, or how many patients it treats or how fast, we need to judge it on how good it is at making people better," he said.
He argued that a new Tory health policy was emerging that would be a "real tonic" for the NHS, saying: "No more pointless reorganisations. Scrapping top-down targets. Making sense of Labour's reforms. All hospitals to be foundation hospitals.
"Proper commissioning by GPs, to make sure the NHS puts patients first. And next, our proposals for making the NHS independent, taking politics and politicians out of the day-to-day running of the NHS."
Mr Burnham acknowledged there was more to do on MRSA - a recent leaked memo from the Department of Health suggested the NHS was on course to miss its MRSA targets to halve infection rates on 2004 levels by April next year.
However, he defended the government's approach, saying: "Are the Tories just happy to sit idly by not directing the service as to the important action that should be taken to tackle this disease?"
He added: "David Cameron and Andrew Lansley should be upfront about what their policies would really mean - an increase in hospital-acquired infections. The public has a right to know - would the Tories scrap the MRSA targets and risk patient care?"