Medical directors in Scotland have been advised to review cases when elderly people die while waiting to be discharged from hospital.

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said she has written to NHS boards after revelations that 93 patients died in Fife last year despite being passed ready to leave.

In a statement to Parliament on the issue, she said: “We have a duty to enable older people to stay at home and live independently for as long as possible.

“We have a duty to enable them, when clinically fit to do so, to return to an appropriate homely setting after a stay in hospital.

“In my view, in order to underline how important it is to avoid such situations arising, and to ensure that the focus remains at all times on reducing delayed discharges, that when a patient has been deemed fit for discharge and subsequently dies before discharge takes place, the medical director of the relevant NHS board should ensure that the circumstances are always fully reviewed.

“I’ve written to boards advising them that this should be the practice and that I expect boards as part of the clinical governance arrangements to receive regular updates.”

The figures for Fife emerged at the weekend following freedom of information requests by Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson.

He said: “I would never have imagined that so many people would pass away while waiting for an appropriate care package.”

Ms Sturgeon said the number in Fife was unacceptably high but described a falling trend since the Scottish Parliament was established.

She said 646 people were kept in hospital beyond the six-week target in April 2005 under the Labour-Liberal Democrat administration, while the numbers were at zero at the April census from 2007 onwards, under the SNP.

The latest figure, from October last year, showed there were 128 patients waiting beyond the limit.

“Let me be absolutely clear - that was far too high,” she said.