Delays in discharging patients out of hospital after treatment could be costing NHS in England £900m a year an independent review has said.

It said it was a major problem causing operations to be cancelled and resulting in the NHS paying private hospitals to see patients. Lord Carter (Labour peer) identified the issue in a wider look at how £5bn could be saved by 2020. His proposals called for better procurement and staff management, and savings to the drug bill.

But delayed discharges are likely to be a more intractable problem as it is largely not down to the actions of hospitals. Vulnerable and frail patients cannot be released if there is not the support in the community from home care workers or distinct nursing staff or a place in a care home. The report said information provided by trusts estimated as many as 8,500 beds in acute trusts were being blocked. It said if you take into account how much staffing and running a bed costs this works out at £900m a year. But the true costs are even higher. The report highlighted the growing trend to pay private hospitals to do NHS work as a consequence of this.

Last year the NHS spent £11bn in the private sector- 11% on the previous year.

Delayed discharges have also been blamed as one of the causes of growing waiting times in A&E as doctors struggle to find beds for patients who need to be admitted.