BED-BLOCKING in Oxfordshire has soared to new highs, with hospital bosses blaming a “Stalinist” system for failing to tackle the crisis.

Hundreds of patients ready to move on from hospital are being left stranded in wards, because of backlogs among agencies tasked with helping their recovery.

In March, patients fit to leave hospital spent a total of 4,742 days stuck in their beds, making Oxfordshire the second worst performing local authority area in Britain, after Birmingham.

The previous month, the Department for Health said there were 2,663 bed-blocked days, but NHS Oxfordshire said the total should have been higher.

In both months, an official snapshot found 137 stranded patients, compared with 93 in January and 82 last December. The Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust said the crisis was now costing it at least £3.3m a year – the equivalent of keeping open three wards.

Millions of pounds have already been spent trying to fix the problem.

In October, the Government gave Oxfordshire County Council £200,000 to spend on long-term care at home, while £503,000 went to the county’s primary care trust for its community hospitals.

The hospital trust gave the council another £360,000 to fund care home packages in November, and it received an extra £1.47m from the Department for Health in December.

But at a hospital board meeting last week, clinical services director Paul Brennan said recovering patients spent too long in community hospitals before heading home, and the reablement service and social services were struggling to deal with the number of people leaving hospital.

ORH Trust chief executive Sir Jonathan Michael said jobs as simple as installing new ramps and rails in patients’ homes were keeping them in hospital unnecessarily.

He said: “It’s clearly a systemic problem. We’re limited as to what we can do, because it needs to happen out there, rather than in here.”

The trust’s vice-chairman, Geoff Salt, said there was an “air of complete unreality” among health officials, who set lower targets for bed-blocking even though the problem has got worse.

He said: “It’s almost as if it’s being run by totalitarian, Stalinist people, who haven't got a clue what’s going on.

“I cannot see any way this is going to get better. Whether it’s the Strategic Health Authority, or the Government, somebody ought to be looking at the system.”

PCT spokesman Cariad Hazard said the NHS and county council were working together on tackling the problem, with more than £2m spent.

Council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said bed-blocking related to adult social care had fallen from nearly 100 cases last October to just 27 last month.

He added: “Some clients choose to decline care home placements offered to them by the county council, while there have been some issues of getting care homes to accept large numbers of admissions in a short period.”

He said the council would continue to fund the same number of care home places this year and had increased the number of new care packages offered.