The claim was made by a home help group which warned that the situation was needlessly adding to the country’s deepening health debts and causing  damage to lives.

According to Home and Community Care Ireland,  635 people will be “stuck in hospital” during the holiday period despite the fact they have been medically cleared to leave. The reason, reportedly, is that home help service and step-down facility places will be unavailable due to long-term problems and cutbacks in the sector.

HSE figures show that up to 90% of those affected, previously described as “bed blockers”, are  patients aged over  65 who cannot leave until alternative arrangements have been put in place for their care.

Home and Community Care Ireland chairperson Michael Harty has warned the situation means the patients are being  “marooned” in wards when they should be allowed to leave, with delays leading to a cost of almost €1,000 per patient each night.

“I am appalled that in the context of this year’s public health budget requiring an additional €199m in funding, delayed discharges are at a five-month high and the HSE is continuously squandering over €508,000 a night,” Mr Harty warned.

“Immediate Government action is required to ensure those most in need in our communities, our elderly, can access appropriate funding and return home from hospital as soon as they are fit to do so.

“The structural separation of one type of care from another, as well as increased home care funding to enable faster discharges, could save millions annually and allow much-needed frontline resources to be reallocated to where they are really needed. Most importantly, it could also help the elderly in our community to liver longer at home and prevent unnecessary admission in the first place.”

According to HSE calculations, the nightly cost of a hospital bed currently stands at between €800 and €900.

Using these figures, Home and Community Care Ireland said a “conservative estimate” suggests the “wastage” linked to the lack of step-down facilities is €508,000 a night — the equivalent of 24,000 hours of home care services.

Among the reasons for delays in leaving hospital are the non-availability of home care packages, home help, nursing home approval   and access to HSE rehabilitative equipment.

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