Hospital bed crisis looms as population growth outstrips healthcare provision

City will lack at least 5,000 hospital beds by 2026 despite major construction and expansion work as population grows

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 6:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 11:55am

The city will face a shortfall of at least 5,000 private and public hospital beds within 12 years if healthcare capacity continues to lag behind the pace of population growth, the South China Morning Post has found.

The Post has calculated that all planned major construction of new hospitals and expansion of existing ones will bring the number of beds up by at least 7 per cent to 38,587 beds by 2026. But the current ratio of one bed for every 200 residents will rise to one for every 208 residents when predicted population growth occurs.

In 2011, the Planning Department set a target of one bed for every 182 residents.

Also of concern is the fact that the proportion of the population aged 65 years or above will rise from 13 per cent this year to 23 per cent in 12 years. Elderly people require an average of six times more inpatient care than the rest of the population, according to the government.

"The shortage of beds is already very severe now, especially in public hospitals," said Tim Pang Hung-cheong of the Patients' Rights Association.

"Patients are made to wait for a long time at emergency units before they can move to the wards, where beds are already fully occupied during peak flu [season].

"Even in private hospitals, patients often have to wait for weeks to have surgery...some are forced to upgrade to first-class rooms with higher charges as the general wards are occupied," Pang said.

He said the planning department has underestimated health-care demand, as their target only takes into account demand from permanent residents. As many as 10 to 20 per cent of patients in private hospitals are mainland tourists, Pang said.

Medical sector lawmaker Dr Leung Ka-lau urged the government to encourage the building of more private hospitals.

There are 35,939 beds in public hospitals, private hospitals and nursing homes to serve over 7.1 million residents.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, the number of residents is expected to rise to 7.9 million by 2026 - meaning 43,653 beds will be required to meet the government's target. By 2031, the population is forecast to hit 8.1 million, with 26 per cent being elderly.

Major developments planned by the Hospital Authority, including the construction of the Tin Shui Wai hospital, the children's hospital in Kai Tak and other expansion projects will provide at least an additional 1,548 beds in the next decade.

Three new private hospitals are planned which are expected to add 1,100 beds.

That will bring the total number of beds to 38,587 - still 5,055 beds short of meeting demand from residents, and without factoring in visitors to the city.