Redundancies announced by Matilda Hospital this week are a symptom of Hong Kong's declining birth rate and of competition from the public sector, experts said yesterday. At least one other private hospital has had to close its maternity wards while others have opened up new services in attempts to corner a greater share of a rapidly shrinking market, they said. On Monday, the 95-year-old Matilda Hospital, on the Peak, which specialises in obstetrics care, announced 25 people - or 10 per cent of its workforce - had been laid off. The Adventist Hospital, in Stubbs Road, and its sister hospital in Tsuen Wan said on the same day they would cut the salaries of their 500 staff by between 1.58 per cent and 4.42 per cent from January next year, in line with civil service pay cuts. Legislator Dr Lo Wing-lok, representing the medical sector, said: 'It is not the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is already here. We will see a continued contraction of the private sector partly because of the economic recession and partly because of the government's health-care policy.' He pointed out that births in Hong Kong had dropped from 60,000 a year about 10 years ago to 40,000 now. He said public hospitals cared for 97 per cent of admissions, compared with 92 per cent in 1990. Public hospital maternity admission costs $67 a day. Private care costs at least $3,000 a day. At the Evangel Hospital, Ma Tau Wai, which shut its maternity ward two years ago, pregnant women have been told they can have antenatal and prenatal checks but would have to deliver their babies at either the Baptist or St Teresa's Hospital. St Paul's Hospital, in Causeway Bay, seems to be bucking the trend, however. Its executive manager Leonard Yeung Yiu-lam said: 'We do not have any plans to dismiss staff and no pay cut is being considered.' The hospital froze pay last year and a freeze was in the offing this year, Mr Yeung said. The hospital's occupancy rate has remained at 60 per cent, he added, and its income this year was running at the same level as last year despite a deepening recession. Maternity-ward occupancy, however, was down to 40 per cent. The hospital cut its total beds from 531 in 1997 to 368. Dr Lo and Mr Yeung said the government had to do more to redress the imbalance between the private and public sectors. Mr Yeung said patients were only being sent to private hospitals for hi-tech tests and not for general admissions.