A shortfall in social services funding is causing severe bed blocking in East Sussex hospitals.

Almost 90 beds have been blocked because two councils, East Sussex and Brighton and Hove, have been unable to fund care in nursing or residential homes.

David Tutt, the Cabinet member with responsibility for social services and a healthy community at East Sussex county council, said it was facing two pressures - an ageing population and more people who paid for their own residential care becoming eligible for state funding.

In addition, the county council lost£2.5m this year with the end of transitional funding to recognise local authority reorganisation.

But Mr Tutt felt a key issue was that the council's standard spending assessment did not take account of East Sussex's large elderly population.

East Sussex, Brighton and Hove health authority said it would cost at least£600,000 to clear the current delayed discharges and end the disruption to NHS services, assuming demand stayed at existing levels.

So far£1m of NHS winter pressures funding has been spent on schemes agreed with the social services departments to ease the problems. Local trusts are also spending hundreds of thousands on private sector operations and post-hospital care packages.

Eastbourne Hospitals trust chief executive Alan Randall said he faced the prospect of entering the winter with two wards blocked - despite spending£400,000 on care that should have been funded by social services.

He said: 'It's hurting us financially, and making delivering on waiting list targets more difficult.

We need a contingency plan because it would be totally unacceptable to allow emergency services to collapse.'

Charles Ellis, director of corporate development and facilities at Hastings and Rother trust, said he 'understood' the pressures on social services and had been working with them on rapid-response schemes. But he said the trust was experiencing 'tremendous difficulties' at present.

He said: 'We anticipate spending£100,000 this year on a rolling programme of funding the first four weeks of step-down beds for 10 patients in residential care, to help ease the pressure on beds.

'If the situation were to worsen. . . emergency services could be compromised.'

Last week, an HA board meeting agreed to urge the two councils to implement emergency local government contingency arrangements and to assist them with a case for changes to their funding formula. The HA also accepted the councils' offer of more direct involvement in its budget setting.