GWENT had the highest number of patients of any health board area in Wales classified as blocking hospital beds during March.

One-in-four (105 out of 421) of what are officially known as delayed transfers of care in Wales were in Gwent, with only the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales, with 102, recording anywhere near that amount.

The March figures, the latest available, show that the problem remains a significant issue for Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, which saw the number of patients classed as blocking beds rise by almost 30 per cent during 2013.

The processes for recording delayed transfers of care (DToCs) – patients fit for discharge but unable to be leave hospital – have been changed in Gwent recently, and the health board believe this may be one reason why a sustained increase has been recorded since March last year.

But a steady loss of care home places has also contributed to what has become an increasingly difficult situation to manage. Across Wales, more than 250 such places were lost last year.

Of the 105 classified DToCs in Gwent in March, 60 were classed as being for healthcare or community care reasons.

Thirty-five were due to healthcare reasons, either waits for assessments or for arrangements to be made for healthcare to be provided once the patient leaves hospital.

Of the 24 DToCs due to community care reasons, all but one was because community care arrangements had not been sorted out for patients.

Care home issues also continued to be major factor, with the March figures showing that 15 delayed transfers were due to patients and/or their families not having selected a care home, while another 22 were due to patients waiting for a place to become available in the care home of their choice.

These figures reflect the issues with care home closures. Often, patients who need to go into a care home on discharge from hospital have to be placed further afield than they might otherwise wish.

Rising numbers of DToCs in Gwent are out of line with a general decrease across Wales, and health board bosses are looking at how they can work with councils and other agencies to try to speed up discharges.