The abolition of health authorities in Wales has thrown the future of local health groups - the Welsh primary care organisations - into doubt.

Under the Welsh NHS plan, published last month, the five HAs would be axed while the 22 LHGs would 'take on new responsibilities for commissioning and delivery of care'.

But a briefing from Cardiff law firm Morgan Cole says: 'While the plan describes the LHGs as a continuing corporate entity, it does not address the constitutional position and the fact that LHGs are currently committees of the five health authorities which are to be abolished. With the dissolution of the HA, the LHG is left without statutory status and any acts would be ultra vires. '

Tessa Shellens, co-author of the briefing paper and consultant in healthcare and public sector law at Morgan Cole, said that finding 'a home for LHGs' would mean either using the current legal powers available to the Welsh Assembly or bringing in primary legislation.

But she added: 'I suspect that primary legislation is not an option because that would delay it. '

The assembly has no primary legislative powers and would have to approach the Westminster government to acquire these.

The briefing paper outlines the 'statutory models currently available', including giving LHGs trust status; pilot scheme status under the NHS (Primary Care) Act; using partnership arrangements under the 1999 Health Act;

primary care trust status; or care trust status under the Health and Social Care Bill.

'There are only so many legal routes they can go down, ' said Ms Shellens, although the PCT route would be 'legally the cleanest way'.

Conservative health spokesman and Assembly member David Melding said: 'We have raised considerable misgivings about the consequences of abolishing HAs without either LHGs having trust status, or an all-Wales HA, or an arm's length agency. '