In Brief

'Disastrous' NHS restructuring at the root of current crisis

The 'damaging' NHS reforms made by the coalition have been condemned by a leading think-tank

The government's controversial restructuring of the NHS has failed patients, led to an increase in waiting times and decreased performance a damning report has found.

The King's Fund, a leading health think-tank, said the changes made by the coalition had left the structures of the NHS so "complex, confusing and bureaucratic" that the organisation of the service was no longer "fit for purpose", The Guardian reports.

"People in the NHS focused on rearranging the deckchairs rather than the core business of improving patient care," King's Fund chief executive Chris Ham told the BBC.

Changes that came into force in 2013 abolished many NHS organisations in an attempt to give GPs more power over how budgets were spent.

The report says that the disruption caused by the changes intensified existing problems within the NHS, increasing the pressure on A&E departments and hampering attempts to reach targets in cancer care.

"Historians will not be kind in their assessment of the coalition government's record on NHS reform," said the report. "The first three years were wasted on major organisational changes when the NHS should have been concentrating on growing financial and services pressures."

It also issued a clear warning ahead of this year's general election. "Politicians of all parties should be wary of ever again embarking on top-down restructuring of the NHS."

Those within the health service agree. Dr Mark Porter, head of the British Medical Association said the changes had been "opposed by patients, the public and NHS staff, but politicians pushed through the changes regardless".

Labour, meanwhile, seized a political opportunity, saying the report was "independent authoritative evidence" that it had been right to raise concerns about the restructuring back in 2010.

"People will remember patients, nurses, doctors and midwives lining up in their thousands and pleading with the government to call it off," said shadow health secretary Andy Burnham. "But they ploughed on and plunged the NHS into the chaos we see today."

However Andrew Lansley, who was Health Secretary at the time the reforms were being planned, disagrees. He said that patient care had in fact improved, and patients "will continue to see the results" of the changes.

"The report is silent on the question of whether patient care has been improved, on which the evidence is clear," said Lansley.

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