A quarter of the social services departments scrutinised by the Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate are failing and show little prospect of improving, says a report published this week.

It says poorly run local authorities end up in 'head to head' arguments with the NHS, leading to bed blocking in hospitals.

The joint investigation of 19 social services departments found seven serving people well and five in need of some improvement. But it names five - Sefton, Barking and Dagenham, Bury, Sheffield and Barnsley - which it says were not serving people well and 'not well placed to improve'.

Andrew Webster, director of joint reviews for the Audit Commission, said: 'If councils were not doing a proper review of services it may well have an impact on their local health service.'

Social Services Inspectorate chief inspector Denise Platt said she had seen bed blocking resulting in 'fruitless' arguments between health and social services.

Audit commission controller Andrew Foster said the approach piloted by the joint reviews could be a model for the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Getting the Best From Social Services. From the Audit Commission, 0800- 502030. pounds15.