Radical changes to the way the NHS in England is organised have been “disastrous” and “distracted” from patient care, leading analysts say. The evaluation by the King’s Fund think tank says the coalition government’s changes had wasted three years, failed patients, caused financial distress and left a strategic vacuum. But it also says Labour is “crying wolf” over its privatisation claims. The government said the report showed its plans for the future were right.

The behind-the-scenes changes may not have been immediately apparent to patients in GP surgeries. But they were described by NHS leaders as “so big you could see them from space”. The changes, which came into force in 2013, abolished large numbers of NHS organisations. The aim was to shift the balance of power in the NHS to give GPs more say over the way budgets were spent.

It provoked uproar in sections of the medical profession, in part over the role of potential privatisation of some services. King’s Fund chief executive Chris Ham told the BBC: “People in the NHS focused on rearranging the deckchairs rather than the core business of improving patient care. “That’s contributed to the increasing waiting times and declining performance that patients are experiencing.” He described the reforms as simply “disastrous” and said that only in the past two years had the government got its focus right.

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