THOUSANDS of families have been pitched into the frontline of a row on health spending.

They received invitations in the post to sign a petition to save the National Health Service (NHS).

The person behind the move, Stockton South Labour MP Dari Taylor, says if returned to Government, the Conservatives will break up the NHS, and slash £24m from health care budgets in Stockton alone.

Mrs Taylor claims the Tories have pledged to make the cuts.

The blank petition forms delivered to every home in her Teesside constituency state: "We the undersigned call upon our Member of Parliament to support the Government's plan to modernise the NHS, and to vigorously oppose any Tory attempt to privatise and break it up.''

People are asked to sign the forms and return them to a freepost address.

The Conservatives yesterday accused Mrs Taylor of spreading misinformation, while admitting they will only guarantee increased spending on the NHS for the next two years.

Tim Devlin claimed the petition, which also invites constituents to sign in support of Labour putting billions into the health service, was like asking people to say they were against sin.

The surgeon's son, who hopes to regain for the Conservatives the seat he lost to Mrs Taylor in the last General Election, said: "It's an absurd petition. It's designed to recruit people into the Labour Party on misinformation. We have promised to match Labour Party spending pledges for the NHS. All resources which have been pledged to improve health care in Stockton will be met for the first two years.

"What this shows is that Mrs Taylor is running scared of the Tory Party, an extraordinary position to be in after three years of being an MP.''

The petition is seen as the opening salvo in a run-up to the General Election, which could be in May.

Mrs Taylor said if there was a Conservative Government it would be the end of the NHS as people knew it.

She said: "I can assure you it would be business as usual if the Conservatives ever get back into Government, cutting health spending to pay for tax perks, forcing patients to pay privately instead.''