Cameron’s Health-Service Overhaul Was Damaging, Charity Says

Changes to the management system in the U.K.’s National Health Service have been “damaging and distracting,” a leading health charity said.

In a report published Friday, the London-based King’s Fund criticized the decision by Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats “to implement complex organizational changes at a time when the NHS should have been focused on tackling growing pressures on services and an unprecedented funding squeeze.”

The main opposition Labour Party has made the future of the state-funded NHS, under which most treatment is free at the point of delivery, a key theme in its campaign to win the May 7 general election. Labour leader Ed Miliband has accused Cameron of creating a crisis in the service, with waiting times at emergency units stretching to their longest in more than a decade over Christmas and the New Year.

“Historians will not be kind in their assessment of the coalition government’s record on NHS reform,” Chris Ham, the fund’s chief executive officer, said in an e-mailed statement. “The first three years were wasted on major organizational changes when the NHS should have been concentrating on growing financial and service pressures -– this was a strategic error.”

Still, the fund said, the coalition has switched focus over the past two years, with “a welcome shift away from the technocratic changes” so as to “concentrate on safety and quality of care.”