First Minister Rhodri Morgan has made a personal visit to the accident and emergency department at Cardiff's University Hospital of Wales.
Mr Morgan visited the hospital for around half an hour on Thursday
It follows claims from staff that the department is in crisis and patients were not getting the care they need.
Mr Morgan had told AMs the problems at the hospital were usual for January, a comment that had angered nurses.
The leader and his wife Julie Morgan, the Cardiff North MP, spent around half an hour talking to staff and patients.
The first minister described the visit, on Thursday evening, as a "useful meeting" and said it gave him the opportunity "to talk to people in the front line".
Mr Morgan had been challenged by nurses to visit the emergency department at Cardiff's University Hospital of Wales.
They said they wanted him to see at first hand how staff were struggling to cope.
Difficulties at the hospital emerged earlier this week in an anonymous e-mail from a senior nurse sent to the Liberal Democrats, which claimed patients were being treated "worse than animals".
Tara Dunn was one of those who challenged Mr Morgan to visit
The nurse said patients were treated like "vegetables", with examples of them being left on trolleys for 51 hours and adults were put in paediatric beds.
'Unacceptable, not normal'
Mr Morgan then told AMs the problems were usual for January.
It was that comment which had angered nurses and led to their challenge on BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye programme for him to visit the unit to see conditions for himself.
Staff nurse Tara Dunn had said: "I am actually very disappointed and shocked in his comments."
"We would be very pleased to see him come down to the department and see it when it is as busy as it is every day and the stresses we work under."
'Inherited a nightmare'
Mr Morgan's spokesperson had said that he was "fully apprised" of the situation at Wales' biggest hospital and his comment to AMs had not been trying to play down pressures on staff.
Huw Ross, chief executive of the Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, said the Welsh NHS was not managing to solve long-standing problems and said he felt sympathy for staff and patients.
Tina Donnelly, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, said Mr Ross and the new nursing director at the hospital had "inherited a nightmare" and the system needed to be "radically overhauled".
Speaking in the assembly, Mr Morgan had said the situation was serious, but normal for the time of year.
Welsh Liberal Democrat assembly leader Mike German said the situation was "unacceptable, not normal".