OUT of hours NHS primary care services in Wales are  "under strain due to morale and staffing issues", a report has found.

The Wales Audit Office has found urgent primary care services in Wales, which are available when GP surgeries are closed, are generally seen positively by patients, but are under pressure as a result of difficulty filling shifts and other issues.

The report shows 600,000 people contact out of hours services each year. But it said patients need more and better information on how to access services and a lack of information about their performance is making management difficult. It also raised concerns about the timeliness of appointments and recommended standardising services across the country and doing more to make them an attractive place to work.

Auditor general Huw Vaughan-Thomas said: “This report highlights the urgent need to strengthen out of hours services and address some long standing workforce challenges.

"Patients also need better information on how to access services.

"It is essential that the Welsh Government and health boards work together to implement my recommendations and develop sustainable improvements to these vital services”.

Responding to the report, chairman of the Welsh Assembly's Public Accounts Committee and Monmouth AM Nick Ramsay said: “Out-of-hours services have an important role to play in providing urgent help to patients, at times when GP surgeries are closed.

“The auditor general’s report makes clear that these services are under pressure and are not meeting the national standards.

"There are also threats to the sustainability of these services due to staffing problems and issues with staff morale.

“The recommendations provide a sound basis for strengthening out-of-hours services and the committee looks forward to considering this report in detail.”

And Dr Rebecca Payne, chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners Wales, said the findings of the report "won’t be a surprise for many GPs".

"Out of hours services are unsustainable in their current form," she said. "GPs and other staff are being asked to work in a difficult environment and patients can’t always access the services they need in a timely fashion."

Saying health boards have "neglected their primary care responsibilities", she added. “Addressing this needs leadership from Welsh Government and from health boards.

"There are simple steps that can be taken right now. We want to see more call handlers, addressing call abandonment rates to ensure patients get through to people.

"We also want to see better use made of other healthcare professionals working in out of hours services, better use of technology, and employment conditions that protect staff working in a high-risk environment.

“We believe these are sensible recommendations that would lead to an improvement in out of hours services that is so urgently needed."