Twenty-seven percent of voters believe the Conservatives would be the most effective at managing the National Health Service, compared to 26% for Labour and just 13% for the Liberal Democrats.

Findings of the public poll, which was conducted by Harris exclusively for the Daily Mail, indicates that voters’ confidence in the current management of the NHS has been significantly shaken, despite a substantial boost in health investment since Labour came to power in 1997 with the promise of being ‘the party for the NHS’.

The survey, results of which were published by the newspaper, found that while health spending has doubled in the last 13 years only 19% of voters believe that this increased cash flow has led to significant improvements in the NHS, although the majority - 56% - said that there had been some improvements but not enough. Eighteen percent claimed there had been no improvements at all.

In terms of funding the NHS over the coming years to help it remain free at the point of delivery, the majority of voters rejected the notion of introducing a fresh tax or boosting National Insurance (46%), a charge for visiting the GP (75%) or a staff pay freeze (50%), favouring instead a reduction in the use of managers and consultants (82%), which are widely perceived to be very expensive.

The British Medical Association has long argued that too much money is being spent on management consultants, with £350 million of NHS money sunk into employing their services in England in the previous financial year.

However, there is still much debate over the issue, and, according to a relatively recent report by the Management Consultants Agency, the majority of spending on consultancy can be linked with an improvement in patient care and greater efficiency of services, thus demonstrating the value and potential savings they can bring to the NHS.

Life-saving drugs
Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite the current difficult economic climate, which looks set to become even more turbulent for the NHS as it juggles thinning cash flow with rising service demand, the public is also firmly behind giving all patients live-saving medicines regardless of how much they cost, with 77% agreeing and only 14% disagreeing with this principle, the poll found.

England and Wales’ cost regulator, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, often finds itself in the firing line for making tough decisions on which medicines should be funded on the NHS and which are too expensive to be considered cost-effective.

From a humane standpoint, it is hard to argue against giving patients access to all new potentially life-saving or life-extending drugs on the market. In practice, however, given that the NHS has been set the target of making efficiency savings of £20 billion by 2014, and that such novel therapies are often extremely expensive, the money simply isn’t there to fund such an ideal.

On a different note, in a further slap in the face for Labour, a significant proportion (67%) of voters responding to the Daily Mail’s survey think that GPs should take back responsibility for out-of-ours care. Sixty percent of respondents who had seen a doctor outside of office hours reported a deterioration of the service since the controversial opt-out clause was offered to GPs back in 2004.