Private healthcare chief executives have remained confident their firms will profit from NHS reform even as political controversy has stalled the Health Bill, a survey shows.

The poll of 20 UK healthcare industry chief executive officers was conducted between March and May, as health secretary Andrew Lansley faced escalating attacks and the government was forced to “pause” the passage of his bill.

It found 84 per cent of respondents expected the reforms to have a positive impact for private providers. However, only 40 per cent expected all or nearly all of the reforms to be pushed through.

A further 30 per cent expected the government to at least “partially” follow through on its reform commitments.

Thirty per cent expected there would be “limited follow-through” on the reform programme.

Alistair Stranack, global head of healthcare for the Parthenon Group, the business strategy consultancy that carried out the survey, said: “I suspect if we asked everybody again… we might have a less definitive answer to this [question of whether the reforms would be pushed through].”

He said the chief executives’ confidence was based on the view that the government had no choice but to push through NHS reform.

One anonymous interviewee was quoted as saying: “The Department of Health understands that the only way to deliver more cost-effective healthcare is through increased levels of partnership with the private sector.”

Of the majority who expected reform to benefit the private sector, 40 per cent thought the impact would be high or very high. The chief executives were confident the extension of “any qualified provider” commissioning would, in the medium term, bring extra NHS business to private providers.

One interviewee said: “Large volumes of existing [NHS] block contracts will have to be put out to tender, and the independent sector will have to get at least a 5-10 per cent show of those to give any credibility to the programme of [any qualified provider].”

Mr Stranack said private providers’ strategies in the face of the health reforms fell into four categories. Some aimed to compete on innovation in care pathways, others – such as GSTS Pathology – on economies of scale. A third group would focus on brand development and the more traditional providers aimed to compete on customer service and quality.

Of the final group, he said some predicted NHS service levels would deteriorate, that there will be less public spending and “therefore as the economy recovers we’re going to see an increase in self pay and an increase in private medical insurance, and the right strategy for the private sector is to follow that opportunity”.

Those polled in the survey included the CEOs from Nuffield Health, HCA International, BMI Healthcare, Bupa Cromwell Hospital, Spire Healthcare, Allied Healthcare Group, Circle, and GSTS Pathology.