THE number of patients classed as blocking beds in Gwent hospitals rose by almost 30 per cent during the year to November 2013.

A tightening up of the processes for recording what are officially known as delayed transfers of care (DToCs) – patients fit for discharge but unable to be leave hospital – has been cited by Aneurin Bevan Health Board as one reason why a sustained increase has been recorded since last March.

But a continued loss of care home places – a phenomenon not confined to Gwent – has also contributed to what has become an increasingly difficult situation to manage. Wales-wide, more than 250 such places have been lost in the past year.

During December 2012-November 2013 there were 1,063 people classed as delayed transfers of care in Gwent hospitals, based on monthly audit results. The figure for December 2011-November 2012 was 819. Care home selection and care home availability are major delaying factors in Gwent, regularly contributing to a third or more of all monthly delays.

In November 2013, the latest month for which figures are available, 13 patients delayed in hospital were there due to issues with the selection of a care home, and another 19 were waiting for a place to become available in a specific care home.

Together, these reasons contributed more than a third of patients among the 86 classed that month as DToCs.

Even more of an issue recently has been DToCs caused by reasons linked to community care and healthcare, such as waits for assessments of a patient’s healthcare needs at discharge from hospital, and for assessments of what help they may need at home.

In November, delays for healthcare reasons made up over a third of DToCs.

These and community care reasons combined made up over half of delays.

Despite increases in numbers of DToCs, Gwent’s health board has been more successful in stabilising the amount of hospital bed days lost. The majority of delays are kept to under three weeks, but in November, 10 patients waited 12-26 weeks, and one for over 26 weeks.