The former chairman of the Emergency Department Taskforce warned last September that delayed discharges were putting lives at risk.

The risks were outlined in an analysis of the problem prepared by the then National Director for Acute Hospitals Dr Tony O'Connell.

The analysis was released to RTÉ's Prime Time and featured on tonight's programme following a Freedom of Information request.

Dr O'Connell left the health service last month after just eight months in one of the most senior posts in the Health Service Executive.

At the time he wrote his "three-pager" analysis there were 703 delayed discharge patients in the acute hospital system which he said represented "30 wards of capacity."

He revealed there were actually "a handful of patients who live permanently in our acute beds, in that they have been waiting over three years for placement".

He warned "from a quality and safety perspective this situation is unacceptable.

"Frail elderly patients risk nosocomial (hospital acquired) infections, falls, pressure ulcers, and medication errors, while being nursed in busy acute hospital settings for months on end.

"A busy ward with high levels of activity 24/7 is an inappropriate setting for elderly patients at risk of disorientation and deconditioning," he said. 

"In an acute setting they cannot receive the kind of mobilisation, physiotherapy and occupational therapy that would be more appropriately delivered in a lower acuity setting.

"The loss of 30 wards of capacity in our acute hospitals means that fewer beds are available to accept elective/scheduled activity and to cope with the surges in demand though our Emergency Departments.

"This has resulted in a relentless rise in long-wait patients on the elective surgery and endoscopy lists and a rise in the numbers of patients in Emergency Departments.

"Both these phenomena risk patient safety (delayed treatment for patients needing surgery and increased mortality for patients blocked in their transit through ED).'

Dr O'Connell proposed shifting funds in the short term from the acute hospitals budget to the Social Care budget which funds Home Care Packages and the Fair Deal Scheme, as caring for patients in a nursing home is approximately half as expensive as in an acute setting.

But he concluded that "the long term solution to this problem is adequate funding of the social care sector."

Last week there were 755 delayed discharge patients in the system.

Many of those are elderly patients who have been approved for funding for private nursing home care under the Fair Deal scheme but who are waiting to draw down the funds.

There are currently 1,239 people waiting 11 weeks for their Fair Deal funding.

The Department of Health has provided an extra €10 million to the Fair Deal Scheme since Christmas.

500 transitional care beds were funded in private nursing homes in January and a further 400 beds have been funded in February, to assist in the discharge of patients from acute hospitals.

173 short stay public beds are also being opened across the country for a three month period.

Meanwhile, arrangements are in place in the HSE to recruit frontline staff where it has been established that there is an urgent service requirement.

A review of the Fair Deal Scheme, which is expected to address the funding shortfall issue, will shortly be submitted to Minister of State with responsibility for Primary and Social Care Kathleen Lynch and to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

Dr O'Connell was appointed to the HSE Directorate last May and was more recently asked to Chair the Emergency Department Taskforce.

He resigned suddenly last month, saying that his wife had taken up an academic post back in Australia.

The Irish Times reported this morning that pay was also a factor in his departure.