There is greater support for non-profit groups running NHS services than private companies, with support for private firms providing services falling markedly, a survey shared exclusively with HSJ has revealed.

The poll, conducted last month by Ipsos Mori for King’s College London, asked people if they agreed with the statement, “as long as health services are free of charge, it doesn’t matter to me whether they are provided by the NHS or a private company”.

There was net agreement of -5 per cent with the statement, with 42 per cent agreeing and 47 per cent disagreeing.

When the same question was asked in 2011 there was net approval of 5 per cent.

Ipsos Mori asked the same question with regard to non-profit companies in this month’s survey. There was a net approval of 16 per cent, with 54 per cent agreeing and 38 per cent opposed. The question was not asked two years’ ago.

A spokeswoman for NHS Partners Network, which represents independent providers to the NHS, said surveys had shown varying attitudes to the independent sector since the passage of the Health Act last year.

“Any slip in support is disappointing, especially as we know how hard independent sector providers work to achieve excellent care for all that is free at the point of need,” she said.

“Every month since reporting began, patients have been rating their experience of NHS care by independent providers very highly.”

The survey was carried out to mark the publication of a paper by Nick Hayes of Nottingham Trent University that found public attitudes towards NHS reform have been heavily shaped by preconceptions about the kind of health provision that existed before the birth of the NHS.

Describing the findings of his report, Mr Hayes said: “People imagine a negative past that never really existed when it comes to pre-1948 healthcare. This mythical past shapes contemporary attitudes to changes to the NHS.”

Ipsos Mori interviewed a representative sample of 1,009 adults aged 18 and above by telephone across Britain between 12 and 14 October.