ALMOST half the beds at a hospital rehabilitation unit in Northallerton are occupied by elderly people waiting for funding to allow them to move to nursing homes.

And nursing home owners in North Yorkshire say people are dying while waiting months to move from hospitals.

A member of staff at the Rutson unit, part of the Friarage hospital, said 12 of the unit's 27 beds were currently blocked by elderly people, some of whom faced waits of up to eight months for social services funding for nursing home places.

The staff member, who did not wish to be identified, contacted the D&S Times after the funding bottleneck at the Friarage was highlighted in an article. She said only one of the 12 patients concerned had received funding and was due to move; the others had no idea of when they could leave hospital.

It was also believed that about 100 elderly people across North Yorkshire were in the same position.

Mr John Ashton, owner of Nightingale Hall nursing home, in Richmond, said a man who occupied an acute medical bed at the Friarage for five months waiting for funding to move to the home had died this week, still waiting.

"The situation is absolutely appalling," said Mr Ashton. "One woman waited for five months, from January to June, to move here. We find it infuriating that we have beds and can provide immediately for people."

He said North Yorkshire social services had a rough deal from the government, which sliced £1.6m from this year's budget after the county council overspent on the service.

County Coun Sheila Marshall, the executive member for social services, said the root of the problem lay in the government's quota system of funding, whereby amounts of money were packaged for certain projects only and could not be used on other services. This resulted in difficult prioritising of elderly people, based on risk.

"We overspent by £1.5m last year, mainly due to people needing care, having been assessed on the level of care they need," said Coun Marshall, who is also a non-executive member of North Yorkshire health authority. "I regret very much that people are waiting in hospital. Everybody knows that hospital is not the right place for people who are medically stable.

"I continue to raise the issue of shortage of funding but government policy is for us to keep the numbers in nursing and residential homes down.

"The government gives us money for rehabilitation and recuperation and says we must spend it on permanent care. So much of this money is special grants for specific purposes, which can not be diverted elsewhere."

Social services was even audited separately to ensure government rules were followed.

Coun Marshall said the system meant that people were occupying hospital beds at a cost of about £1,200 a week instead of nursing home places at about £400 - both of which came from the public purse.

"Financial regulations do not allow a hospital to pay for a permanent place in a nursing home, which means three times as much public money is being spent and the elderly person is not in the most suitable environment."