Three in four people believe the NHS is in a bad condition, including two-thirds of Conservative voters, according to an exclusive poll for The Independent.
ORB International found that only 23 per cent of the public think the health service is in a good state. Among this group, a tiny 1 per cent described the NHS’s condition as very good.
The survey of 2,057 people suggests that health remains the Conservatives’ potential Achilles heel, and might yet pay dividends for rival parties if they could push the issue to the top of the election agenda.
Labour, which is promising £6bn a year for the NHS in England and a further £8bn over five years for social care, will try to raise the issue’s profile over the next few days. It will warn that, without a funding boost in the Tory manifesto, the health budget will face a cut in real terms next year.
The cyber-attack that afflicted the NHS on Friday has raised the profile of health in the election campaign. Labour has accused the Government of “complacency” over the threat, and blamed £1bn of cuts in the NHS infrastructure budget to plug gaps elsewhere. It has pledged an extra £10bn for such spending, with priority given to cyber-security and upgrading IT systems.
Senior Labour figures believe health could be a more potent issue for the party than at the 2015 election. However, the spotlight has rarely fallen on public services in what the Tories want to make a “Brexit election” and a choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. The Liberal Democrats have pledged an extra £6bn for health and social care, funded by a 1p rise in income tax rates.
According to ORB, only three in 10 people (31 per cent) who voted Tory at the 2015 general election say the NHS is in a good condition, while 66 per cent describe it as bad. Only 18 per cent of Labour’s 2015 voters believe the service is in a good state, and 79 per cent regard it as bad.
Overall, 74 per cent of people describe the condition of the NHS as bad. Women (77 per cent) are more likely to hold this view than men (71 per cent). The regions where the service gets its worst ratings are in the North-west, North-east and Yorkshire and Humberside, where the Tories hope to gain seats next month.
A majority (51 per cent) of people think the Tories bear the most responsibility for the current problems facing the NHS. One in five people (20 per cent) blames Labour, even though the party has been out of office for seven years, while 13 per cent blame NHS staff.
One in four Tory voters (24 per cent) at the last election say the party is most responsible for the problems, while three in four (76 per cent) Labour voters blame the Tories. Public sector workers (59 per cent) are more likely than those in the private sector (50 per cent) to hold the Tories most responsible. The 18 to 24-year-old age group (59 per cent) is much more likely to blame the Tories than the over-65s (40 per cent).
Responding to the poll, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow Health Secretary, said: “With waiting lists spiralling, overcrowded hospitals and more and more patients languishing on trolleys in corridors, the scale of the crisis in the NHS is clear to everyone. People know it is a direct result of this Conservative Government. The choice facing us is investment in our NHS or further cuts under the Tories.”
Last week, Labour and the Lib Dems seized on figures for NHS England showing that 195,626 people waited over four hours to be seen in major accident and emergency departments in March as the key waiting time target was missed for the 20th month in a row. Some 362,687 people have been waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment, with 3.7 million on the waiting list, compared with 2.4 million in 2010.
But ministers argue that A&E performance got better in the past year, waiting times for an operation got shorter in March and patient outcomes continued to improve, with breast cancer survival at its highest ever level. They insist that cyber-security has been taken seriously.
A Conservative spokesman said: “Public satisfaction in the NHS is now the highest in all but three of the last 20 years. Under Theresa May’s leadership, the NHS has more doctors, more nurses and record funding – Jeremy Corbyn’s nonsensical economic policies would wreck the economy and mean less money for the NHS.”
ORB interviewed 2,057 people across the UK on Wednesday and Thursday.
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