The decision of two leading health service figures to speak at a Labour Party news conference, two days before the election has been criticised as conflicting with NHS Executive guidance on remaining impartial during the election.

Northumbria Healthcare trust chief executive Sue Page and Professor David Kerr, who chairs the Cancer Services Collaborative and is a Commission for Health Improvement commissioner, both spoke at Tuesday's press briefing on Labour's record on the NHS. They both then encouraged voters to support Labour.

HSJ sources described the speeches as 'really very surprising', given the clear guidance issued by NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp as soon as the election was announced.

The section of the guidance on speaking at events says that talks on health matters, by authority or trust members or employees, 'should avoid political debate, comment on past or current government records'.

An HSJ source, who described the appearances as 'astonishing', said: 'There is an expectation that NHS managers as public servants keep their heads down.'

In her speech, Ms Page, who was on leave for the day, made it clear she was speaking in a personal capacity.

After talking at length about improvements in her trust, she said she had one regret in the past four years, which was that she did not vote in the 1997 election.

She urged people 'to use their vote on Thursday so that the government can finish what it has started'.

Professor Kerr said: 'I shall be voting Labour on 7 June and urge others to do the same.'

A Labour party spokesperson said: 'They are speaking out about their experiences of their health services.'