THOUSANDS of patients are being re-admitted to NHS hospitals as emergency cases weeks after being discharged, Government figures have revealed.

Statistics for 2000/2001 show that the situation has "significantly deteriorated", compared with 1999/2000, and sparked warnings of NHS trusts discharging patients too early.

In the North-East, health authorities covering County Durham and Darlington, Newcastle and North Tyneside, Teesside and Sunderland all reported a "significant deterioration" in this key area and higher than average re-admission rates.

The figures also reveal that the problem of "bed-blocking" is not disappearing despite the Government providing £300m to help free up much-needed beds.

There is also a wide disparity in death rates following emergency surgery with patients almost twice as likely to die within 30 days in some health authorities compared with others.

The figures, the third set of NHS performance indicators, show that out of England's 110,000 NHS beds, 6,000 are blocked by patients whose discharge has been delayed.

The worst area in the region for delayed discharges is Sunderland with 8.4 per cent of all patients in hospital experiencing delays compared with the national average of 6.3 per cent.

The figures also reveal striking variations across a range of other health indicators.

For emergency surgery, the death rates within 30 days range from 1,589.66 per 100,000 patients in Croydon to more than double that rate, 3,936.31 per 100,000, in Barnsley.

North-East trusts range from a low of 2,250 for North Tees and Hartlepool to a high of 3,643 for Newcastle.

But every patient at South Durham Health Care was admitted to a ward within four hours, compared with 82 per cent facing longer delays in Woolwich, south-east London.

NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp said: "Every hospital and health authority must take a long, cold look at these figures and take real action to deal with problems."

On bed-blocking, he said: "This is something we are determined to tackle. We do need to see that changing."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Dr Evan Harris said: "Hospital re-admission statistics are a damning indictment of the way Government targets have forced trusts to discharge patients too early, in order to get trolley waiters in.