Over a period of one year, a weekly telephone survey identified 161 stable patients with weaning delay (defined as patients ventilated for at least 6 h per day for more than 2 weeks) in intensive care units in the Northern Region of England. Their median age was 69 years (range 21-88 years). Sixty patients (37%) were admitted with medical conditions, 89 (55%) were postoperative patients, whereas 12 (8%) were surgical but required non-operative admission. One hundred and thirty (89%) were weaned and discharged from the intensive care unit during the year. Twenty-two (14%) died and two were transferred to the home ventilation service. Seven patients remained ventilated in intensive care at the end of the study period. Twenty patients (12%) required more than 28 days of respiratory support. These patients occupied on average 6.0% of available intensive care unit beds in the region. This study suggests that in the Northern Region of England there are a significant number of stable but ventilator-dependent patients occupying intensive care beds.