The number of hospital beds blocked by patients who no longer need medical care but cannot be discharged without support has soared to a record 746, it was confirmed yesterday.
It comes as a snapshot survey has found scores of nursing home beds lying idle as mostly older people, who are approved for funding under the Fair Deal scheme, are forced to stay in hospital.
The survey by Nursing Homes Ireland found the slowdown in the release of funding in the Fair Deal scheme has led to lengthening delays in transferring patients to nursing homes for a short-term transitional bed or long-term care.
Many of the 746 patients need nursing home care and others are waiting for other supports.
The survey covered Galway, Dublin, Westmeath, Mayo, Donegal, Cork, Roscommon, Kilkenny, Limerick, Kildare, Wicklow, Clare and Kerry.
In Limerick, where hospital overcrowding has continued at serious levels during the summer, one nursing home owner said they received several inquiries from hospitals asking for two weeks' respite or convalescence care for patients only to be told no funding is available.
Another nursing home owner in Galway said: "The delays are proving very frustrating for the families and patients themselves."
In Dublin a nursing home owner said a patient was told in June they would face six weeks for approval for funding.
"Our survey provides just a snapshot of the pressures being encountered by patients requiring discharge from our acute hospitals and their families and those being brought to bear upon hospital staff," said Tadhg Daly, Nursing Homes Ireland chief executive.
"It informs older people are staying in our hospitals for weeks, despite being ready for discharge back into the community via nursing home care.
"Nursing homes liaising with families are hearing their frustrations and upset as their loved ones remain within hospitals unnecessarily.
"The survey also reveals staff within hospitals are planning the discharge of patients and liaising with families but are hamstrung due to funding supports not being available."
In response the HSE said the current waiting list for a nursing home among people approved for funding in the Fair Deal scheme is now 800.
She said the budget allocation of €999m for 2019 is to support around 23,042 people at any one time.
Waiting times for entry into the scheme average six to seven weeks and are "regularly reviewed to manage peak demand times for long term care", she said.