With the party conference season in full swing, HSJ surveyed some of the organisations taking part in the Health Hotel series of fringe events. We asked for their verdict on government action and priorities, as well as how some of the major figures from across the political spectrum are doing.

With the party conference season in full swing, HSJ surveyed some of the organisations taking part in the Health Hotel series of fringe events. We asked for their verdict on government action and priorities, as well as how some of the major figures from across the political spectrum are doing.

The opposition

All but one of the organisations willing to express a view said that the Conservative Party was providing a more credible opposition than in previous years. The verdict on the Lib Dems was more mixed, with about two thirds of organisations saying they were less credible.

Private-sector commissioning

The organisations were largely opposed to the concept. Although some of the charities were supportive, those which commented thought it essential that accountability should remain with the NHS, although it should be able to use private sector expertise.

Support for managers making tough decisions

Most organisations were confident about political support, although one commentator had a caveat: 'The reality is that the government won't support managers across the board.'

Brown vs Blair

There was little enthusiasm for a Brown premiership. Some feared the chancellor's tendency to micro-manage, others his enthusiasm for the private finance initiative

Top lobbyists

A wide range of names were discussed, the most consistently cited being King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson.

Influence

We provided a selection of names: the prime minister's health adviser Professor Paul Corrigan received most votes, followed by health secretary Patricia Hewitt and new NHS chief executive David Nicholson. This is the same order as in the HSJ50, published last week.

Performance

We asked respondents to rate health ministers on a scale of one to five where one was very good and five very poor. Lord Warner scored best and Rosie Winterton worst. The other figures were: Patricia Hewitt 2.9; Lord Warner 2.5; Andy Burnham 2.8; Caroline Flint 2.6; Rosie Winterton 3.7; Ivan Lewis 2.9

If the government could pursue only one health policy over the next 18 months, what would it be?

Stephen Thornton, chief executive, Health Foundation
Patient safety. This is a global problem and hospitals need help to make sustainable, on-the-ground improvements and they need that help now.

Thomas Hughes-Hallett, chief executive, Marie Curie Cancer Care
Honouring their commitment to increase investment in care at the end of life.

Paul Cann, chief executive, Help the Aged
The government should address the imbalance that has developed in the care system between health and social care, which is creating pressures and perverse incentives. There needs to be an honest and open public debate about what the state will, and will not, provide.

Gill Morgan, chief executive, NHS Confederation
Getting financial and organisational stability and adopting a stronger focus on patient outcomes and experiences.

Dame Karlene Davis, general secretary, Royal College of Midwives
I want straight talking on the NHS. If the government intends introducing market principles into the NHS it should be upfront and willing to fight its corner rather than using the issue of deficits as a smokescreen. When trusts fail to implement national policy, the government should acknowledge this and, in some cases, intervene rather than hiding behind 'local decision making'.

Donna Covey, chief executive, Asthma UK
Reducing hospital admissions for people with long-term conditions.

Margaret Mythen, chief executive, New Health Network
Tackling inequalities in health services - particularly unacceptable variations in access to diagnostics and effective treatment.

Anne Weyman, chief executive, FPA
Health promotion.

John Wilkinson, director general, Association of British Healthcare Industries
Legislation to increase uptake of new technology; we would like it taken up by the NHS as part of a long-term plan for a top-class service.

What is the best thing the government has done in the past 18 months?

Stephen Thornton
Being transparent about deficits - recognising there was a problem and being open about what is needed to address the underlying problems.

Paul Cann
It has begun to shift the centre of gravity from care in the acute sector to primary care and to help people to stay healthy and independent.

Karlene Davies
Promoting choice via reforms such as choose and book and the development of social enterprises. The government has begun work on delivering choice to all pregnant women over how and where they give birth. That is good news, although a lot more needs to be done.

Donna Covey
The Health Bill, specifically the smoke-free elements of the legislation.

Anne Weyman
The ban on smoking in public places.

...and the worst?

Thomas Hughes-Hallett
The confusion between commissioning and provision last autumn.

Karen Jennings, head of health, Unison
Inviting companies to tender for management of primary care services.

Paul Cann
Allowing the budget crisis in the NHS to further erode basic services on purely financial grounds. Services for older people, in particular, are often seen as low priority in times of budget pressure.

Donna Covey
Not fully recognising the financial and patient benefits of keeping people out of hospital and allowing primary care trusts' financial problems to dominate.

Gill Morgan
The chaos that comes with every reorganisation.

Anne Weyman
Pursuing financial balance in a way that penalises PCTs and trusts that have managed their finances well.

John Wilkinson
We hope the government rethinks its plan to give DHL the NHS Logistics contract. We are deeply concerned about the concentration of buying power, being able to drive costs down and squeezing small innovative firms out.