Accident and emergency departments in Wales risk being overloaded by patients because of confusion about where to get treatment, it has been claimed.
A report by the Wales Audit Office says members of the public are confused about where to go for treatment because services vary across the country.
It says urgent care services are “complex” and “disjointed”. Someone with a minor injury could go to casualty or a minor injury unit, contact their GP, phone NHS Direct or try to look after themselves, it says.
“The range of services can also be confusing for professionals working within the system,” the report says.
The “disjointed pattern” of unscheduled care “can result in inefficiency as well as uncertainty and delays for service users”, it adds.
The Wales Audit Office said the system meets a vast range of demands 24 hours a day. An estimated 2.2 million calls were made to it in 2008-09, with most people getting the attention they needed.
But it said service delivery is disjointed, and is at its worst during out of hours periods when many normal services stop.
The report says the newly enlarged local health boards should take the lead in redesigning the unscheduled care system and match staff levels to demand.
A national communication strategy that helps the public use the system should be prepared by the Welsh Assembly.
Auditor general for Wales Jeremy Colman said: “Delivery of unscheduled care will not improve unless it is seen and planned as a whole system.”