The public increasingly trust Labour to manage the NHS, and support the policies unveiled last month in the party’s 10 year vision for the service, the latest of HSJ/FTI Consulting pre-election poll has found.

The growth in support for Labour comes after a month of well publicised performance challenges for the service, and concentrated campaigning on the NHS by the party. Labour was also accused by the coalition government of trying to “weaponise” the issue for political gain.

Our poll found that:

  • public support for Labour relating to the NHS has grown significantly since September;
  • Labour leader Ed Miliband has also enjoyed an increase in support;
  • Labour’s policies on how the NHS should change over the next 10 years are popular; and
  • the public is increasingly relaxed about private sector involvement in the service.

Since we last conducted the poll in September, the percentage of voters who believe Labour would provide the best NHS healthcare has risen from 41 to 45 per cent. The proportion who believe Labour would best prepare the health service for the future has also risen four percentage points, to 41 per cent. The party made a similar gain in public confidence that it would run the NHS efficiently.

FTI survey bar chart 1

Mr Miliband has also benefited: 32 per cent of voters now believe he is the party leader who best understands the NHS, up seven points since September. The Labour leader is now five points ahead of David Cameron, compared with a one point lead in September.

Yet despite a winter in which the NHS has repeatedly made headlines over declining emergency performance, Labour’s gains have largely not been at the expense of the Conservatives: its ratings are within one percentage point of where they were in June, while Labour’s have improved. Instead, Labour has been taking gains from smaller parties including UKIP and the Liberal Democrats.

FTI survey bar chart 2

Policies outlined in Labour’s 10 year strategy also appear to be popular with voters. Most strikingly, 46 per cent strongly agreed with Labour’s claim that patients with autism, mental illness or dementia should receive the same support as people with cancer, while 32 per cent said they “slightly agreed”. Sixty-three per cent agreed that NHS organisations should provide more social care services, fitting with Labour’s proposal for 5,000 new homecare workers to be employed by trusts.

However, there has been a mixed response from voters on Labour’s opposition to rising private sector involvement in the NHS. Forty-seven per cent of voters said laws should be changed to restrict growth in the amount of NHS care provided by the private sector, against 29 per cent who disagreed. Yet 59 per cent agreed that assuming care was free to users “it doesn’t matter whether it’s privately or publicly supplied”. This was up from 50 per cent last June.

FTI survey pie charts

Mike Birtwistle, founding partner at Incisive Health, told HSJ that Labour’s success in the polls should not be attributed to specific policies.

“The NHS had a pretty terrible month in January in terms of headlines on performance,” he said. “Labour may be benefiting from events as much as policy and they have been showing visible concern in an issue that is top of voters’ agendas, and the government has been silent on it.”

“The Tories want the election to be about the economy. They’re trying to shift public attention away from the NHS, but I don’t think that works. The public are going to have an interest in the NHS – the issue is not whether you talk about it, but how.”

FTI survey bar chart 3

Exclusive: Labour campaigning on NHS pays off with poll boost