Gordon Brown would be better for the health service than David Cameron, according to NHS chief executives.

The HSJ poll asked respondents which, as prime minister, would do best for the NHS. Most - 63 per cent - opted for the chancellor over the Conservative leader, who was preferred by 37 per cent.

Several chief executives worried there would be a quicker move towards privatisation under the Conservatives. One said: 'I fear a move away from a fully publicly funded NHS'.

But others hoped Mr Cameron would take market-driven reforms further. As one put it, a Conservative government would 'create more freedom to manage independently and in a business-like fashion, unencumbered by a massive bureaucracy'.

Several others agreed there would be less red tape if Labour lost the next general election. Another hoped the Conservatives would instil a 'commercial logic and discipline' to the NHS.

But some people were concerned about the Conservatives' 'love affair with doctors'. A chief executive elaborated: 'The typical message from the party in opposition is that it will put power in the hands of doctors. By which they mean GPs.

'Whenever this has been done before, the power has been abused and results in increased remuneration for GPs.

'It's crazy to think you can put a private sector businessman - which is what GPs are - in charge of a public service such as the NHS.'

However, many people felt there would be no significant change if the political tables were turned.

As one respondent put it: 'The current administration's policy mix is the best Conservative health agenda one could imagine.'

Others simply said they did not know what the Conservatives' NHS policies were.

Most NHS chief executives admitted they do not find politicians' contributions helpful. The acute, primary care and mental health trust chief executives surveyed were asked to rate the input of councillors, MPs and ministers into the running of services and decision-making.

Nearly three-quarters found that ministers were either obstructive or made no difference at all, with only 28 per cent saying they were helpful.

One person complained: 'Ministers have been consistently dishonest and disingenuous - they never once stopped to find out what it would cost to implement the latest good idea.'

Councillors were seen to be making no difference by 36 per cent of chief executives surveyed.

A slightly smaller number found them helpful and 29 per cent said they were obstructive. Out of this figure, 5 per cent called councillors 'very obstructive'.

MPs fared slightly better as nearly half found them helpful but a quarter thought them obstructive and 29 per cent believed that they made no difference.

One respondent called on MPs to 'stop using the NHS as a political football' and others complained of 'meddling'.