The poll by YouGov for The Sunday Times found voters’ faith in the national health service was continuing to deteriorate as the UK faces a “public health emergency” caused by rising energy bills and staff shortages.
According to the research, 58% of respondents said they were not confident they would receive timely treatment from the NHS if they fell ill tomorrow, with 36% not confident at all and 22% just not confident.
Some 45% believed the service had worsened in the past 12 months.
The NHS continues to face Covid-related backlogs, staffing issues and more people coming forward for checks.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said there needs to be an “honest conversation” with the public about what the health service will be able to manage over the winter and beyond.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said there are steps people took during the pandemic to protect the NHS “that we need to be thinking about again, because we are in a situation of crisis”.
While voters in the recent poll believed the NHS is still underfunded, they opposed tax rises designed to pay for it. It was found 43% did not want an increase to national insurance, with 50% of respondents wanting the hike to be reversed – a proposal made by Tory frontrunner Ms Truss.
And while 64% of voters trusted neither candidate with being able to improve the service, 47% said they did not trust Sir Keir Starmer.
Mr Sunak has pledged to introduce a £10 fine for patients who miss GP and hospital appointments to help reduce waiting lists.
But Mr Taylor warned this could “gum up the system”.
“I’m not sure that fining people will work for the simple reason, actually, that probably the cost of administering that will almost be as much as anything you raise by it,” he told Times Radio.
“I understand what lies behind that, we’re trying to encourage people to be responsible, but … fining is going to gum up the system with a huge bureaucracy of chasing people and, in the end, if it’s a £10 fine, are we actually going to follow it up?
“I think we need to look at other ways of trying to encourage people to use health services (responsibly).”
The latest NHS performance figures showed accident and emergency departments in England had one of their worst months in July, with record numbers of patients waiting more than 12 hours to be admitted and the lowest proportion of people being seen within four hours.
The Royal College of Nursing is currently been campaigning for a fully-funded pay rise of 5% above inflation, which is currently 11.8%, to combat years of wage stagnation and the cost-of-living crisis, saying the current NHS staffing crisis is causing “unacceptable risk to patients and nursing staff”.