Thousands of patients are unnecessarily staying on NHS wards because they have nowhere else to go, doctor a Sky News investigation finds.
Bed blocking in NHS hospitals has reached its highest level for four years, amid warnings that a lack of social care is bringing the health service "to its knees", a Sky News investigation has found.
Every day, doctors and nurses in England are unable to discharge more than 1,000 patients who no longer need treatment because there is no care available for them at home or in the community, figures suggest.
Analysis of the latest health service statistics by Sky News shows that on one day in September, 4,966 patients were unable to be transferred either to other parts of the NHS or into the care of local authorities – the highest level since September 2010.
That month, 138,068 days of care were lost because of "delayed transfers of care". At £250 a day for a hospital bed, that suggests the NHS is wasting more than £34m a month looking after patients who no longer need to be there.
More than a quarter of those delays were attributed to a lack of social care, funding for which has dropped significantly since the Coalition came to power.
NHS chiefs have told Sky News that increasing levels of bed blocking means that hospitals are becoming overcrowded as patients who need the beds can't get them.
As a result, A&E becomes blocked up and ambulances have nowhere to put incoming patients, they added.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network (FTN), which represents hospital bosses, said: "We are going back downhill to 15 years ago, when the NHS was an international joke because you had to wait years for treatment and wait potentially most of a day in an A&E department.
"Nobody wants to go back to that, but you get what you pay for."
A recent survey by Cambridge University NHS Trust found that 18% of acute adult inpatient beds were occupied by people who had finished their clinical care and could move on.
Dr Susan Robinson, an A&E consultant at Addenbrooke's Hospital, said: "If we're crowded, it's because the hospital's crowded, and the hospital's crowded because they can't get certain patients out. The crowded hospital is almost bringing us to our knees."
NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh told Sky News that bed blocking is a "major issue".
"I'm really concerned about it, I was concerned about it as a practising surgeon, I'm concerned about it as a medical director," he said.
"If you can't get patients out of hospital back into their own homes, where they're safe and want to be, then the whole system backs up. You can't treat people effectively in A&E, then ambulances start to form queues at the front door of the hospital."
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told Sky News: "The truth is we've got thousands of people trapped in hospital; older people who are well enough to go home but can't. Rather than rising to the challenge of an ageing society, care of older people is getting worse.
"We have a system that hospitalises rather than providing basic support in people's homes."
Social care is provided at home and in the community by local authorities. But under pressure from government to cut costs, they have slashed their budgets by around a fifth – almost £3.5bn in total.
The issue is set to be one of the topics discussed on Tuesday at the FTN's annual conference.