Background: The delay in discharge or transfer of care back to the community following an acute admission to the hospital in older adults has long been a recognized challenge in the UK. We examined the determinants and outcomes of delayed transfer of care in older adults. Methods: A prospective observational study was conducted in a district general hospital with a catchment population of 250,000 in England, UK. Those >= 65 years admitted to two care of the elderly wards during February 2007 were identified and prospectively followed-up till their discharge. Data was presented descriptively. Results: 36.7% (58/158) of patients had a delay in transfer of care. They tended to be older, had poorer pre-morbid mobility, and were more likely to be confused at the time of admission. Compared to the 2003 National Audit Report, a significantly higher percentage (29.3%vs.17%) awaited therapist assessments or (27.6%vs.9%) domiciliary care, with a lower percentage (< 1%vs.14%) awaiting further NHS care. Of 18 in-patient deaths, five occurred during the delay. Seven patients developed medical conditions during the delay making them unfit for discharge. The number of extra bed days attributable to delayed discharges in this study was 682 (mean = 4.8) days. Conclusion: Awaiting therapy and domiciliary care input were significant contributing factors in delayed transfer of care. Similar local assessments could provide valuable information in identifying areas for improvement. Based on available current evidence, efficacy driven changes to the organisation and provision of support, for example rapid response delayed discharge services at the time of "fit to discharge" may help to improve the situation.