OXFORDSHIRE’S hospital bed-blocking crisis has worsened despite top-level assurances the problem was easing, the Oxford Mail can reveal.

We reported in January how non-urgent operations were cancelled at the John Radcliffe and Churchill hospitals, as well as Banbury’s Horton, because of a bed shortage.

And it seemed the county was dealing with the number of people clogging up beds although they were well enough to leave, by finding them somewhere else to go.

But new figures for February show the number of bed-blockers hit 137, up from 93 in January and 87 in December.

It is approaching October’s peak when our hospitals were dealing with 175 bed-blockers.

Last night Oxfordshire County Council and the primary care trust were told more needed to be done, as it emerged only Birmingham has a worse problem.

John Sanders, a Labour county councillor, said: “These figures are bad. We had reassurance they were going to improve and they have not.

“I think we should be told why they have not improved. It is not acceptable for Oxfordshire to be scraping along the bottom.”

Bed blocking happens when hospital patients are classed as well enough to be discharged, but remain in a bed – costing the NHS up to £500 per person per night.

It can occur when arrangements such as home care plans or residential home places have not been put in place in time.

Last year Oxfordshire County Council was fined £10,000 by the Royal Berkshire Hospital, which claimed it was not doing enough to prevent bed-blocking by tackling a lack of care provision.

But the county council insisted it was only partially responsible for the delays.

Spokesman Marcus Mabberley said last night: “Some delays are the direct responsibility of the NHS, some are the direct responsibility of the county council and some are shared responsibility.

“Adult social care delays – the ones which the county council is directly responsible for – have dramatically reduced from a peak in October last year of nearly a hundred to a point in February where just 39 of the 137 delays recorded were the direct responsibility of the county council.”

He claimed some “clients” choose to decline care home placements offered to them by the county council and said there had been issues with getting care homes to accept large numbers of admissions over a short period.

Mr Mabberley said the teams were also working to avoid people having to go to hospital by providing better support in the community.

NHS Oxfordshire said the problem lay with demand for community services outstripping availability. Spokesman Julia Stackhouse said: “We recognise getting people out of hospital and into health or social care within the community or at home continues to be an issue within Oxfordshire.

“All organisations involved are working on a day-to-day basis to support patients to leave hospital when medically fit and receive timely rehabilitation and high quality support in the right setting.”

Deputy leader for the Labour group Richard Stevens will raise the problem at a full county council meeting next week.

He said: “The county needs to reassure the public that it is on top of this issue.

“We have an issue in Oxfordshire and we need to tackle it.

“There was a huge spike between June to November 2010, coinciding with expenditure cuts. We need to look as a county why this has happened.”