Chief executive of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson said "tyrannical" political cycles have stopped the NHS making fundamental improvements to the service.
In what was Sir David's last speech to the NHS Confederation before his retirement next year, he said two years were wasted after the 2010 general election where real change could have been made.
According to Sir David, voters should "beware" of political manifestos which promise that small changes will be enough to solve the long-term problems of the NHS.
He said that when promises that no changes would be made to the NHS during the last election, all the health service could do was "batten down the hatches".
Sir David said: "We said at the time it was not the right thing to do, but that's what happened.
"We had wasted two years where you could really make change happen. We spent all our time talking about reoganisation and change, but we did not talk about all of the important changes that are required for the NHS, and now we're entering another period.
"The NHS in my opinion stands at a crossroads, and we cannot allow the tyranny of the electoral cycle to stop us making the real, fundamental changes that we need to make to the NHS."
According to Sir David, who will be retiring in March 2014, a "long-term" plan is needed to give the NHS more sustainability.
His pleas echo NHS England chairman Professor Malcolm Grant's comments earlier this week.
Also speaking at the NHS Confederation Annual Conference, Professor Grant said NHS England and CCGs need to “secure independence” from government in order for the new system to survive, according to Professor Malcolm Grant.
Professor Grant said: “In the last 20 years we’ve had a new secretary of state every two years.
“If there’s one thing we have to learn from the past history of commissioners of the NHS is that the centre isn’t able to hold control properly.”
And Sir David agrees that NHS England will be key in helping the current system to survive long-term.
Launching an NHS England Shared Strategy, Sir David said NHS England will be able to create change in the long-term for the health service, something politicans have been unable to do.
"Although there are politicians who are fantastically committed to the NHS and creating good services for patients, because of the electoral cycle they have enormous difficulty being able to think beyond the relatively short-term," he said.
"It's our job to make that happen. It seems that institutionally we are creating something that's capable of doing that."
By posing open questions to the public, NHS England will be able to avoid a top-down way of changing the NHS, according to Sir David.
He said: "Politicians will never run around saying, close hospitals, they will never do any of that. It is our job as leaders in the NHS, to make the arguments with our patients."
The plan, which aims to promote culture, improve team work, make a case for change and have each clinical commissioning group have a five-year plan for how they will transform their services locally.
Sir David said: "I'm not talking about a document, there is not going to be a great big tome that says 'This is the strategy of the NHS'. This is a process of engaging with our patients to make services better and improve outcomes.
"There will be products and documents, absolutely, and out of that will come a process, a movement for the NHS to make it happen."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "
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