NEW figures show that elderly patients can be forced to spend up to an extra month in hospital because there are not enough care facilities outside hospital.

In the south-east, 36.8% of those waiting to be discharged from hospital have to wait more than four weeks.

This is the latest symptom of the disease of bed blocking, which both the Labour government and Conservative-controlled county council have allowed to spread unchecked in Surrey.

There are many elderly patients who need to be in homes for the elderly, but are not being transferred to them because of the lack of places or the money to pay for them.

This means that expensive hospital beds, which could be used for other patients, are "blocked" and other patients on waiting lists must wait still longer to get much-needed treatment.

Any delay in discharging a person from hospital is unacceptable. The present situation simply exposes them to fresh infections and yet further delays. This is a fiasco of the government's own making.

They have pursued polices which have driven dozens of Surrey care homes out of business.

As a result we have a system where fully recovered people, who have nowhere else to move on to for after care, are blocking badly-needed hospital facilities, intended for those with acute needs.

We need a better way of caring for elderly patients. Less bureaucracy and less in-fighting between the NHS and social services, and more focus on providing the best care for the patient and a more rational use of our hospital resources.

Alan Hilliar, Woking Liberal Democrats, e-mail: