BED blocking is costing the NHS in Scotland £233 a day per patient with one every 12 beds occupied now by someone who is well enough to leave hospital.

An annual report on delayed discharges highlights how shortages of care home places or lags in arranging home care packages and funding for elderly patients is creating a bottleneck in the health service.

The report, by ISD Scotland, estimates that delayed discharges cost NHS Scotland £132 million in 2015/16 - the most recent year for which financial data is available. It equates to an average of £233 per bed day lost and is up slightly from £213 in 2014/15.

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In 2016/17, the vast majority - 77 per cent - of bed days occupied by a patient who was ready to leave hospital were caused by health and social care factors or by patient and family reasons, such as disagreement among relatives on where a patient should go.

However, there is evidence that delayed discharge is reducing. The statistics - adjusted to take into account changes in the way the data is defined, which took effect from July 2016 - shows a four per cent reduction the number of bed days lost between 2015/16 and 2016/17 from 545,139 to 527,099.

Workforce statistics also show an increase in vacancies for consultants, nurses and midwives across the Scottish health service.

By the end of September this year, more than 250 of the 430 consultant vacancies had been empty for more than six months. Long-term vacancies among consultants rose 40 per cent between September 2016 and September 2017 as posts are either left vacant to cut costs or hospitals struggle to attract suitable candidates.

There were also more than 2780 vacancies for nurses and midwives, including nearly 830 posts vacant for three months or more - up slightly on the previous year.

However, the number of doctors and dentists in training grades rose for the first time since 2014, and the student intake for nursing and midwifery in 2016/17 - 3,266 - was the highest record in six years.

Chair of Scottish consultants committee, Mr Simon Barker, said: "Almost 60 per cent of all consultant vacancies have been vacant for over six months and this figure has consistently grown over the past year.

"This highlights the sustained and constant difficulties certain specialities are experiencing in being unable to recruit and retain consultants to hospitals and this is leading to huge service stresses the length and breadth of Scotland."

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “There has been a significant 11 per cent fall in the overall number of people delayed in the last month, and a 10 per cent decrease in the number of extra days spent in hospital, compared to October 2016.

“Decreases have now been recorded every month of this year compared to last year and Boards are working hard to see that continue and ensure no patient has to spend unnecessary, extra time in hospital.”

Ms Robison added that NHS Scotland staffing was also at record levels.

She said: “Over the last five years we have increased the number of consultants by 16 per cent, and seen consecutive years of growth in nurses and midwives.

“We want to go even further – which is why we are investing record funding – and as the NHS continues to recruit additional staff, it is self-evident that vacancy rates will fluctuate from time to time.”