The banking and debt crisis is increasingly restricting access to credit by the euro zone's small and mid-size firms, according to a study released Friday by the European Central Bank.

The report is based on a survey carried out between Sept. 3 and Oct. 11 among 7,514 companies in the euro area.

"Access to bank loans continued to deteriorate," the text said, citing a 22 percent worsening in the availability of credit.

SMEs who applied for loans also were turned down more frequently, with the rejection rate climbing slightly from 13 percent in the previous survey - released in April - to 15 percent.

"This is the highest percentage since the peak of 18 percent in the second half of 2009," the report said.

The proportion of firms that said access to finance was their main problem remained essentially unchanged - 18 percent in this latest survey compared to 17 percent in April.

Asked which factors triggered their reduced access to external financing, the respondents mentioned the "worsening of the general economic outlook" and a "further worsening in their firm-specific outlook," the report said. EFE