Councils have helped slash delayed discharges from hospital by almost 60% in less than three years through investment in the social care system.
However the Association of Directors of Social Services has rejected government claims that its policy of fining councils for delayed discharges, introduced in January, has accelerated the fall.
Around 2,900 people on average were waiting to be discharged in March this year, down from 7,065 in September 2001, a fall of 59%.
Numbers fell by almost 3,000 between October 2001 and March 2003 following government funding of£300m to help councils build capacity in the care system.
The figures then stabilised, before falling by over 1,000 in the last quarter of 2003, following a further£50m of government funding and the introduction of the fines policy in shadow form.
There was a further fall of just over 300 in the first quarter of 2004 following the full introduction of the policy, under which councils must pay NHS partners for delays caused by capacity shortages in the care system.
Health secretary Dr John Reid said: 'These figures suggest the introduction of the reimbursement scheme seems to have provided the incentive we needed to maintain momentum.'
However the ADSS attributed the latest falls to councils using the£50m delayed discharges grant to help prevent hospital admissions and speed discharges through investment in care services.
The association's president, Andrew Cozens, said that many of the remaining delays originated in the NHS rather than councils.