With an ageing population an increased pressure on health care resources will be seen in most countries. Patients with delayed discharge from short-term hospitals, sometimes called "bed-blockers", are of special interest in Sweden, especially as liability for payments for these patients has been placed on the municipal authorities by a new reform in 1992. A retrospective study was made of 428 bed-blockers above the age of 64 years from one health district in Uppsala during the two-year period 1987-1988. The median age was 81.6 years, and the majority were women. The patients had a median number of diagnoses of 4.1. Additional medical events/symptoms were noted in half of the patients after they had been classified as medically ready for discharge. Even though they were classified "medically ready" for discharge, they still needed care. One-third needed further rehabilitation and another 1/3 further medical attention. Only 1/10 were independent in daily activities of living. At the final discharge 1/3 actually returned home and 16% died on the acute ward. The results clearly demonstrate that these patients often still had further medical needs after the application for transfer. One crucial question, that needs discussion, is the vague definition of a "bed-blocker". Related questions are when and where should these patients be transferred, as well as the relevance of the term "bed-blocker" from ethical perspectives.