Around 2,500 patients at any time are stuck on psychiatric wards when they should be getting some form of community care. A Department of Health report leaked to HSJ reveals poor planning and liaison between health and social care are responsible for the delayed discharges.

The DoH report on 'non-acute delayed transfers of care' for the first week of December last year reveals that 2,188 patients were blocking NHS beds.

Reasons included delayed assessments, shortages of beds in residential and nursing homes, delays in organising care packages and shortages of specialist equipment or adaptations at home.

The DoH has admitted there is a problem and on average around 2,500 patients at any one time are affected. With NHS mental health beds priced at£120 per patient per day these delays cost nearly£110m a year and mean patients who need the beds are kept out.

Rethink director of public affairs Paul Corry said that unless the government put more resources into solving these problems its proposals for community treatment set out in the Mental Health Bill 'will fail on the grounds of impracticality'.

'This is because they put even greater pressure on the interface between hospitals and community services,' he added.

Some trusts are reporting greater pressure now as social services departments separate into adult and child directorates.

Leeds Mental Health Teaching trust associate director John Clare reported a current 'spike' of around 20 patients delayed, representing over 20 per cent of the total non-acute beds, compared with just eight patients delayed a few months ago.

'Social services colleagues are going through a time of upheaval and we have also seen key retirements making it difficult to identify the person in social services that can make things happen,' he said.

A DoH spokeswoman said that a toolkit to improve mental health patient discharge was published last month by the Care Services Improvement Partnership.

But she said: 'A variety of difficulties can lead to delays in discharge from inpatient facilities. Some of these may well be around organising support from local social services.'