Hundreds of patients now in a stable condition are stranded in psychiatric hospitals because they cannot find homes in the community. Most have been abandoned by their families and rejected by the limited number of long-stay care homes in the territory. The overcrowded Castle Peak Hospital alone is home for more than 100 patients who could have been discharged years ago. The chief executive of the hospital, Dr Ng Hon-shing, said more resources needed to be provided to help patients leave the hospital environment and learn to live independently among the community. 'Our target is to let them return to a normal living environment,' he said. Castle Peak's senior medical officer, Dr Yeung Ming-hong, said at least 900 patients, some stranded in other hospitals, were waiting for a place in a halfway house. But the existing three long-stay care homes in the territory only had 570 places, with an estimated turnover of just 23 people every year. The number was expected to remain constant for the next three years. 'The patients need less than 2.5 hours' nursing care a day,' he said. 'Even those who do not require nursing have to wait for six months to a year to get a place in halfway houses.' Some patients managed to get a flat on a public estate unit, but they would not receive the necessary after-care as in a care home, he said. Tuen Mun Hospital's chief executive, Dr Cheng Man-yung, said it would be more cost-effective if the patients could partly look after themselves in care homes. 'In overseas countries, one sees former mental patients walking freely in the streets . . . it depends on how many resources are being given to this aspect and whether the community is ready to support it,' he said. Legislator Dr Huang Chen-ya said 'it is a waste of resources and incorrect to keep the patients in hospitals'. He called for a long-term policy to ensure yearly increases in care home places. According to the Hong Kong Council of Social Service's social worker on rehabilitation, Stella Ho Siu-ying, some patients could find themselves living in hospital for life. 'Due to the serious shortage [of care home places], the homes usually choose the patients who are deemed more easy to look after,' she said. A Social Welfare Department spokesman said the official responsible was not available for comment.