THE bed-blocking problem hitting some of the region's hospitals could be about to ease, according to officials.

Latest figures show that in County Durham, 56 beds - almost the equivalent of two 30 bedded wards - were occupied by patients who should have been discharged.

Hospital bosses are hoping that a new 60-bed private residential care home opening in Hundens Lane, Darlington, this summer will help them cope.

Bed blocking is a big problem for the NHS, resulting in admission delays for other patients and cancelled operations.

Checks at County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals NHS Trust for the week ending May 11 revealed that 31 beds were blocked at Darlington Memorial Hospital, 17 at Bishop Auckland General Hospital and eight at the University Hospital of North Durham.

The main reason for delays is lack of social services funding - 29 out of the 56 blocked beds fall into this category - while incomplete assessment accounts for another 13 delays.

In a report to the County Durham trust board officials say that the rising numbers of delayed transfers throughout the county have led to urgent meetings with primary care trusts (PCT).

Darlington PCT is to set up a team to oversee and co-ordinate efforts to reduce delayed discharges.

At the same time, Government-backed proposals are being made ready to allow hospitals to be reimbursed for delayed discharges, if it can be shown that the local council could be held responsible.

A spokesman for Darlington Borough Council said: "By the end of this summer we should have an extra 60 care home beds at Hundens Lane and by this time next year that figure should be up to 200.

"Hopefully, this will help resolve the current problem with delayed hospital discharges.