HEALTH Secretary Alan Milburn will take no comfort from the latest hospital performance tables.

They show that the number of patients re-admitted to hospitals has increased significantly.

And they also show that "bed blocking", caused by elderly patients waiting to be found residential or nursing home accommodation, has not been reduced.

These statistics expose a gaping hole in the Government's health care policy.

They clearly demonstrate that patients still in need of the specialist care hospitals provide are being discharged too soon, while other patients, who should be discharged, are occupying hospital beds.

Against such a background, Mr Milburn faces an impossible task in his quest to reduce waiting times and shorten waiting lists.

To have expensive hospital beds occupied by elderly patients who should be discharged into care homes represents, at best, an inefficient use of scarce NHS resources. At worst, it represents a scandalous waste of money.

It is clear that the £300m initiative announced last year to free up hospital beds over the next three years will not be sufficient to tackle the problem.

Britain's growing population of elderly people requires an ever-increasing number of places in care homes. Yet, in recent years, the care home sector has contracted.

There is a need for 'joined up' government on this issue. Going hand-in-hand with investment in our hospitals should be incentives to encourage the creation of more care home places.

IF there is anything to learn from the sorry saga of Railtrack, it is that the privatisation of a transport authority is fraught with danger.

The Government failed to heed the warning signs, and pressed ahead with the privatisation of our air traffic control systems, despite fierce opposition from many quarters, including from within its own ranks.

The emergency £30m loan from the public purse to bail out the service is an embarrassment to the Government.

As the chequered history of Railtrack has demonstrated, privatisation may free the state from control, but it does not free the state from the burden of investment.

Perhaps now the Government will come to realise the folly of selling off essential strategic public services which it cannot allow to go to the wall.