The proportion of medically fit patients leaving hospitals in England has fallen to a new low, figures show.
An average of 20,302 people per day were ready to be discharged last week, of which 63% stayed in their beds and only 37% left hospital.
This is the lowest discharge rate since the current data began in November 2021.
There is a sharp contrast in rates across the country, with 44% of medically fit patients in eastern England discharged last week, compared with just 27% in north-west England and 31% in south-west England, according to analysis by the PA news agency.
The rate in London was 42%, with 39% for north-east England/Yorkshire, 38% for the Midlands and 37% for south-east England.
Some trusts discharged only around one in 20 medically fit patients, with rates as low as 6% at Southport & Ormskirk Hospital, 5% at both Liverpool University Hospitals and Stockport Foundation Trust, and just 4% at the Northern Care Alliance in Greater Manchester.
Other trusts with very low discharge rates included Ashford & St Peter’s Hospitals in Surrey (9%), Doncaster & Bassetlaw Teaching Hospitals (10%) and Frimley Foundation Trust in Surrey (13%).
Hospitals have faced a growing struggle in recent months to discharge people who are well enough to leave, often because there is not enough support in place from local providers of social care.
The England-wide discharge rate last week of 37% compares with 43% six months ago and 42% in the equivalent week last winter.
Delays in freeing up beds have a knock-on effect for admissions, leading to many patients being kept waiting in ambulances before being handed over to A&E teams.
Separate figures published on Friday show that a record 26% of ambulance patients in England waited over an hour to be transferred to A&Es last week, while 44% waited at least 30 minutes.
This compares with 10% waiting over an hour at this point last year and 23% waiting at least half an hour.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a school in London on Friday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The NHS is obviously under enormous pressure as we recover from Covid and I have enormous admiration for all the people working incredibly hard in the NHS right now to help get us through that.
“We are supporting them with billions of pounds of extra funding, but in particular this winter what we want to do is make sure we move people out of hospitals into social care, into communities – that is one of the most powerful ways we can ease some of the pressures on A&E departments and ambulances that are waiting too long.”
Miriam Deakin, director of policy at NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS trusts in England, said delays in discharging patients are “putting a massive strain on the entire health and care system”.
She added: “The 44% of ambulance handovers delayed by 30 minutes or more is also extremely concerning.
“Trust leaders are doing all they can to deliver safe, high-quality care for patients, but they cannot weather the storm alone.
“The Government needs to talk to union bosses urgently about pay to avert more strikes, as well as publish a fully funded and costed workforce plan to address the huge staff shortages.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay confirmed in November that the £500 million Adult Social Care Discharge Fund to help get people out of hospital more quickly would be provided to local health systems this winter.
Speaking at the NHS Providers conference in Liverpool, he told delegates the first block of funding would be released in early December, and a second at the end of January.