Protecting the NHS budget is high on the public priorities list, and the majority of people back raising taxes to secure its cash pot, a new survey of nearly 1,800 adults by Ipsos MORI for think-tank the Health Foundation has revealed.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said the NHS should be protected from spending cuts, reflecting a much stronger feeling than for other public services such as schools (49%) and elderly care (45%), and defence (18%).

Almost 60% said they back tax increases as a means of maintaining current levels of NHS spending, care and services, while just 21% said they want to see spending reductions in other services to protect the health budget.

Health leaders are warning that by 2020 the NHS budget gap will have swelled to £30 billion unless efficiency savings of £22 billion can be generated and the Treasury streams an extra £8 billion a year into the system.

Mark Porter, the head of the British Medical Association, told the Guardian in a recent interview that NHS finances are so dire that whoever takes power after the general election will inevitably be tempted to introduce new charges, although this has been ruled out by the three main parties.

Regarding one such potential charge, the survey showed little support for a £10 fee to see a GP, with just 15% voicing support for this, but 61% were in favour of a £10 fine for missed appointments, the survey found.