545 beds are blocked as medically-fit patients have nowhere else to go
More than 540 beds are blocked by patients who are well but stuck in hospital in a week when the trolley crisis has reached a record high.
The patients, who are medically fit and ready for discharge, cannot leave until proper step- down care is available.
At the same time, there is a backlog of patients on trolleys and chairs who cannot be moved to a ward due to a shortage of beds.
The hospital trolley crisis slightly eased yesterday, but 621 patients were still waiting for a bed.
The decrease provided some small respite for hospitals after two days of record numbers when 760 patients languished on trolleys.
However, figures show that as many as 71 beds are occupied by patients known as delayed discharges in St James's Hospital, Dublin, where 22 were on trolleys.
In Cork University Hospital, which had to cancel operations for waiting list patients to free up space, 30 beds were being used by delayed discharges while 43 were on trolleys.
Nationally, 545 of these pat-ients who were ready for discharge but could not leave were occupying beds last week.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said if a patient needs support to move from an acute hospital setting to alternative care such as a nursing home, their own home or specialist centre, there can be a "practical time lag".
However, Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) said yesterday that 2,000 beds are available in private and voluntary nursing homes across the country to facilitate timely discharge of patients from acute hospitals.
NHI chief executive Tadhg Daly said feedback from homes in the discharge process within hospitals "is disorganised, inconsistent and supports are not available to enable staff to facilitate the timely discharge of patients".
He said on Saturday that NHI was asked by the HSE at local level about nursing home beds to facilitate discharges from two very overcrowded hospitals.
"Over 20 beds from 10 nursing homes surrounding the hospitals were identified within a matter of hours, but only one bed has since been utilised," Mr Daly said.
"These hospitals remain severely overcrowded. We're seeing a delay in Fair Deal funding approval.
"There are also delays in transitional care funding for people in hospital requiring nursing home care.
"Engagement with nursing homes the past number of days has informed of huge levels of frustration with regard to the discharge process within our acute hospitals.
"We have nursing homes informing us they are aware of patients requiring discharge to nursing home care, but many of these patients are being deterred due to delays in accessing funding support or bureaucracy within the hospital.
"We've hundreds of beds available to provide specialised care for people in our hospitals who need step-down care, but these are not being utilised."
The HSE spokeswoman said its winter plan has implemented a range of measures such as keeping the processing time for Fair Deal applications down to four weeks, increasing the availability of home support packages and transitional care as well as convalescence care in private nursing homes.