The majority of Britons would be willing to pay more tax to safeguard the future of the NHS, a survey has found, while two-thirds would not object to health services run by private companies as long as they remained free.
As the NHS apparently inches towards a financial crisis, a poll found that 57% of people would be prepared to see taxes rise to help maintain the level of care and services provided by the NHS, with 41% saying they would not.
Some 67% said they did not mind if health services were run by the NHS or by privately owned businesses, providing they were free of charge, while 30% disagreed.
The research, carried out by ComRes for The Independent, also found that voters trust Labour more than the Conservatives on health issues, with 33% backing leader Ed Miliband to protect the NHS, and 29% trusting Prime Minister David Cameron.
Tom Mludzinski, head of political polling at ComRes, said: "Beyond the economy and immigration, the NHS will be the key policy issue on which the 2015 general election is decided, and the fact that most Britons say they are willing to pay more tax in order to protect the NHS just goes to show the peril of being seen by voters to neglect it.
"Although traditionally it has been difficult for the Conservatives to get traction with voters on the NHS, voters seem to trust neither leader particularly to protect what is perceived as a valuable national institution."
Labour's lead has dropped from five to two points since last month, ComRes found.
Labour is on 32%, down three points, the Conservatives are unchanged on 30%, Ukip is up four points to 18%, the Liberal Democrats are down one point to a record low of 7%, and other parties are on 13%, showing no change.
:: ComRes interviewed 1,005 British adults by telephone between June 27 and 29.