NHS bosses in England have been accused by MPs of not being tough enough in tackling delays in discharging medically fit patients from hospital.
Parliament’s public accounts committee said NHS England must do more to support hospitals in this area.
The MPs said officials were too ready to rely on the excuse that the lack of care services run by councils meant there was little that could be done.
Ministers said they were providing extra funds to tackle the issue.
The committee’s report comes after delays in discharges reached record levels.
The issue involves patients being kept in hospital despite being fit to leave, because community support services such as district nursing, carers or care home places, cannot be found for vulnerable patients, normally the elderly.
When this happens hospitals have to keep the patient on the ward.
A recent report by the National Audit Office (NAO) estimated delays were costing £820m a year after the number of delays had risen by a third in the past two years to more than 1.1 million days.
The NAO also pointed out the delays were bad for patients, because older people lose mobility during extended stays and there is an increased risk of infection.
It estimated care in the community for such patients would cost only about £180m.
But the NAO said this was likely to be an underestimate, as the NHS measures delays only from the point patients are deemed ready for discharge – the report said there could well be delays waiting for this to be recorded or in other procedures during their stay in hospital.
It said the “truer figure” could be nearer 2.7 million days of delay.
The cross-party group of MPs has now published its own report, echoing these concerns.
It calls on NHS England to do more, highlighting claims the organisation made that pressure on council-run care services would “prevent significant progress being made in reducing delays over the next five years”.
It said this showed a “striking poverty of ambition”.
Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, added NHS England should help to spread good practice being pioneered by hospitals that are managing to reduce delays.
“Blaming local circumstances for poor performance short-changes patients and is an unacceptable cop-out,” she said.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Local authorities will have more money – up to £3.5bn extra – for adult social care by 2019-20 and by 2020 we will be investing an extra £10bn a year so the NHS can introduce its own plan for the future and help fewer people go to hospital in the first place.”