Demographic changes in the capital will place additional pressure on hospital beds at a time when supply is already failing to keep up with demand.
A recent report by The King’s Fund has estimated that London will see an increase of 6942 births from 2016 to 2021, while the number of midwives will fall.
The report, entitled Sustainability and transformation plans in London, said: ‘London will experience rapid population growth from 2016 to 2021. The older population in London is growing at a slower rate when compared with the rest of England and the number of young people is growing rapidly.’
‘Unsurprisingly, this translates into an increase in number of births equivalent to the workload of a large maternity unit.’
These demographic changes mean that certain London maternity wards are going to have to deal with increasing numbers of admissions, but with less staff. Across 4 out of 5 of London’s sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), saving schemes would reduce whole-term staffing numbers by 1.4% between 2016/17 and 2020/2021.
For already stretched hospital service, this is not welcome news. It means that maternity wards and other departments can expect a rise in admissions without the corresponding increases in staff. By 2020/21 there will be 3800 fewer primary care providers such as midwives, nurses and health visitors, a fall of 7% from 2016/17 levels.
There are, however, big variations within the city, with some areas experiencing higher increases in birth rates than others. South West London is expected to see an increase of 8% (that’s 2565 more births), while North West London will only experience a 1% growth (equating to merely 362 births). This variation means that some health services will be more stretched than others.
Another report by The King’s Fund has revealed that over the past 30 years, the total number of hospital beds in England has dropped by more than half. Bed numbers fell from roughly 299,000 in 1987/88 to only 142,000 today, while the number of patients admitted has grown significantly.
The new findings paint a worrying picture of the future of London maternity wards, with more pressures than ever and a lack of staff to cope with them.