* Survey shows the public are struggling to identify key party promises
* Political timidity in a tight race is squashing meaningful debate
An absence of clear, detailed policy from the three main political parties has led to confusion amongst the public about the healthcare pledges being put forward by Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the General Election campaign.
According to a public survey carried out by ComRes, on behalf of General Healthcare Group, the UK's largest independent provider of private healthcare, whose primary business is BMI Healthcare which runs more than 70 hospitals and clinics across the UK, a large proportion of people are unable correctly to attribute key healthcare pledges to the three parties, with the Conservatives suffering from voter confusion.
Increasing health spending in real terms is a flagship pledge from the Tories but nearly twice as many voters around the country believe this to be a Labour party election promise - 19% of voters correctly attributed this pledge to the Tories but 34% associated it with Gordon Brown's party.
Demonstrating there is little to choose between the main contenders, some 23% of voters believed the increased health spending commitment was made by all three parties.
Some surprising regional variations might give rise to concern amongst election campaign planners - in Scotland 46% of voters believe the funding pledge is a Labour promise compared to 11% correctly associating it with the Tories - and in the South East nearly twice as many voters incorrectly associated the increased healthcare spending pledge with Labour (34% to 18%).
Some pledges have simply failed to get through to the majority of the public. The creation of a Department of Public Health was known to be a Conservative Party promise by only 18% of the voting public but many (24%) simply did not know and 21% thought it was another pledge made by all three parties. Labour fared a little better with one third of those surveyed correctly identifying the party's pledges on giving cancer test results within a week as well as offering free personal care at home for those with the highest need.
Adrian Fawcett, General Healthcare Group, Chief Executive, said: "Healthcare is a key issue for the public but the survey results show they are confused as to which party is saying what about healthcare. What is clear is that none of the parties have been prepared to come clean on the big issue of how they are going to cope with rising healthcare needs and an ageing population against a backdrop of cuts in public spending.
"A tight race and the threat of a hung parliament have squashed any meaningful healthcare debate and there is little to choose between any of them. Parties are talking about protecting budgets or safeguarding front line services yet there is no detail or practical solutions being put forward.
"Arguments about increasing or decreasing the budget miss the point. What really matters is how productivity can be increased for every pound invested. The independent sector has the capacity and skills to support the NHS in an intelligent partnership to help achieve this.
"Increasing the funding base for health in the UK would also help us combat rising demand. Allowing people to top-up state funding for more timely or better quality care is one option as is tax relief on private medical insurance which incentivises people to take responsibility for their own healthcare rather than putting additional strain on the NHS. Many other European countries have a mixed state and private funding system and their healthcare performance and outcomes are better than ours.Â
Other results from the survey shows that a quarter of people thought the Liberal Democrats proposed policy on elected local health boards was put forward by the Conservatives with only 15 per cent correctly attributing it to Nick Clegg's party.