The ComRes poll shows that 22% say the prime minister is the party leader they most trust to manage the NHS, while 20% name the Labour leader.
The gloomy news for Miliband is compounded by the survey’s finding that although Labour remains the most trusted party to manage the NHS, its lead over the Conservatives on that score has fallen to three points, the lowest level since ComRes first asked the question in June.
One in four (25%) of the 2,069 adults interviewed online between 17 and 18 December identified Labour as the party they trusted most to manage the NHS. Polls usually produce the same finding.
That was slightly up on the 24% Labour received in June, but four points down on the 29% it had in mid-October, which came soon after Miliband’s pledge at the party’s annual conference that a Labour government would give the NHS an extra £2.5bn a year to hire extra staff.
In the latest survey, 22% named the Tories as the most trustworthy party on the NHS. Tory strategists are likely to be pleased given that the NHS has received a lot of negative publicity in recent weeks because of missed performance targets and problems with A&E units, GP surgeries and ambulance services as winter pressures have risen. However, other polls have shown Labour’s lead on health to be widening.
Ukip, at 7%, was three points ahead of the Liberal Democrats, who have also pledged billions of pounds of extra funding for the service if they are in government after the general election on 7 May.
That worrying trend for the junior partner in the coalition is confirmed by 6% identifying Nigel Farage as the party leader they trust most on the NHS, while just 4% plumped for Nick Clegg.
Mike Birtwistle, a founding partner at the consultancy firm Incisive Health, which commissioned the survey, said: “Although Labour still leads the Conservatives on the NHS, Ed Miliband had failed to maintain a post-conference bounce on the issue. The fact he still trails David Cameron on what should be Labour’s strongest issue will be a major concern for Labour strategists so close to the election.
“As we move into an election year, Labour, and in particular Ed Miliband, still have a good deal of work to do on health. A raft of policy initiatives have yet to translate into personal trust on the NHS. These findings will be a worrying reality check for Labour.”
Liz Kendall, the shadow minister for care and older people, said the NHS was going backwards under the Tories, and Labour would be campaigning on A&E pressures, lengthening waiting times and staff recruitment problems between now and the election.
“We know that people want positive alternative and credible policies to protect and improve the NHS. That’s why Labour has set out how we will invest an additional £2.5bn each year, over and above this government’s plans, to employ more doctors, nurses and community staff,” Kendall said.
The survey also found that two-thirds of voters now say they are prepared to pay more tax to fund the NHS – the highest-ever proportion. Once don’t knows were excluded, 66% said they were willing to pay anything between 1p and 20p more on every pound earned to go directly to the NHS.
That is up six points on the 60% who indicated such a willingness when ComRes asked the same question in July. The rise has come after all three parties have promised multibillion-pound cash injections for the NHS – George Osborne’s recent autumn statement guaranteeing an extra £2bn a year to help the service cope with rising demand – and NHS England’s blueprint for 2015-20 highlighted the need for significant extra funding.
When asked about government spending on the NHS, 65% said it was not enough, 20% said the right amount and 4% felt it was too much, while 12% did not know. Nearly half (47%) identified “not enough funding” as among the most important challenges facing the NHS, while 45% said “not enough doctors and nurses” and 41% said “pressure on A&E services”.
A government spokesman said: “This government is totally committed to the NHS and its values, which is why we announced in the autumn statement that the service would get £2bn extra, funding the necessary investment next year to back Simon Stevens’s [NHS England chief executive] five-year forward view.
“We can make this down-payment on the NHS’s own long-term plan because of the strong economy we’re delivering and our additional investment over the course of this parliament means the NHS has already employed 13,500 more clinical staff.”
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