Government ministers' eagerness to interfere in the NHS has left staff overstretched and misdirected money from care to management consultants, according to Liberal Democrats.

Government ministers' eagerness to interfere in the NHS has left staff overstretched and misdirected money from care to management consultants, according to Liberal Democrats.

The claims were made at a 'crisis in the NHS' discussion at the party's conference in Brighton last week.

Delegates queued up to denounce service changes in their parts of the country. Andrew Simpson, from Northampton, said the town's hospital had closed seven wards and faced a£20m deficit.

Fertility treatments had been abandoned, as had work on obesity and assistance to those who need to start gluten-free diets, he claimed.

'Crisis is an understatement,' Mr Simpson said. 'They cut spending and that leads to situations like where a ward was closed and then had to be reopened to deal with an increase in asthma cases.'

Bedford councillor Christine McHugh claimed patients were 'more likely to encounter a management consultant than a medical one', and said Bedford Infirmary had taken on yet more management consultants as 120 jobs were shed.

She said: 'The government has done more than enough damage through short-termism and moving the goalposts. It should trust health professionals to do their job without constant interference.'

John Beanse, former MP candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green, said: 'Labour claims this is the best year ever for the NHS. That sounds rather ominous.'

He said his local primary care trust had a£15m deficit and that Whipps Cross Hospital had lost five wards and 400 jobs, 250 through compulsory redundancy, and was soon to lose its elderly persons' unit.

'Medical staff are in short supply but there are plenty of management consultants,' Mr Beanse said. 'They are said to be engaged in turnaround. Well, they are pirouetting for very large salaries.'

Things were no better in Scotland, said Cathy McInnes of East Dunbartonshire council. She said Stobhill Hospital had lost its accident and emergency departments and was about to lose cardiology and orthopaedics.

Staff shortages had led to 'cases where elderly people who cannot cut up their food have had it taken away from them uneaten because staff do not have time to find out that they cannot eat it, rather than do not want to,' Ms McInnes said.

The Lib Dems are about to start a year-long review of their health policy.