Alan Milburn is the most popular New Labour health secretary, according to HSJ's survey of trust chief executives - not surprising when the same survey reveals the light that still burns brightly in people's hearts for the NHS plan.

Alan Milburn is the most popular New Labour health secretary, according to HSJ's survey of trust chief executives - not surprising when the same survey reveals the light that still burns brightly in people's hearts for the NHS plan.

Almost three-quarters believed the 2000 document achieved a consensus 'totally lacking in the current reforms'. The sense of fin de siecle disintegration that former Department of Health human resources director Andrew Foster first put a name to in an HSJ interview almost a year ago is clearly now widespread. There is a strong feeling that the quality of ministers and civil servants has fallen since the salad days of Labour's first term.

Opposition is not universal. The survey shows continuing support for payment by results and waiting targets, while hostility to the private sector shows even further entrenchment. Whether it is independent sector treatment centres or management consultants, almost all the chief executives thought the government was too easily impressed.

There was another interesting finding that says more about chief executives than it does about government. We asked them how engaged with reform staff groups in their own organisations were and also how much they thought those staff groups nationwide were engaged. Chief executives consistently ranked their own staff higher, suggesting that many overestimate widespread low morale. This illustrates that the most senior managers can believe union doom-mongering, even when it flies in the face of their own experience.

Overall the poll makes gloomy reading. The ray of light for the government is the reasonably strong support for a Gordon Brown premiership. He is the face of a new era that means this year's HSJ50 'powerlist' is sure to be very different from last year's, all the way to the top.