NHS managers in Scotland have been given until 2010-11 to reduce the number patients attending accident and emergency.

Local health boards will set the targets according to the circumstances in each area.

They are also being tasked with cutting the number of days spent in hospital for emergency admission patients by 10 per cent.

Pressure on A&E departments had risen since doctors were able to withdraw from out of hours care, and the creation of the telephone helpline NHS24.

The number of people attending A&E as a result reached record levels - 1.5 million - last year, made worse by thousands attending more than once.

Figures show that since March, casualty departments have been busier than ever - receiving about 140,000 visits a month - despite expectations that health boards would cut the numbers.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “We are focusing on A&E because we know some patients attend emergency departments when they could be treated more appropriately and effectively within the community by accessing the wide range of information, support and treatment available out of hours across Scotland.”