Exploring the pressures of an ageing population in St Albans district

Two elderly people in St Albans

Two elderly people in St Albans - Credit: Archant

One in five people living in St Albans will be aged 65 or over within two decades according to new government statistics.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are broadly in line with St Albans council’s community profile which currently shows 15.44 per cent of over-65s living in the district.

In two decades time, with the expected rise in housebuilding in the district, that figure can be expected to be much higher.

And with it comes the growing problem of an ageing population which needs health and hospital care as well as local council support.

The issue raised its head recently when Signature Homes had its bid to build a new 81-bed care home in London Road, St Albans, refused by councillors against the recommendation of their officers.

It transpired through research carried out by Herts county council that although there was a shortage of socially-funded care home beds in the district, there was a shortfall of only one in the number of private care home beds available.

That, combined with other factors, persuaded a planning committee to refuse the application.

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But Cllr Robert Donald, who called in the planning application to committee, is concerned that such misinterpretation calls into question the issue of more care home beds being provided in the district.

To that end he was meeting with the council’s chief executive officer James Blake and a senior planner this week to discuss the council’s existing policy.

He said: “The council has just assumed that care homes are a good thing. They were prepared, without thinking it through, to go forward with any application for care homes.”

Cllr Donald pointed out that the shortage of socially-funded care home beds meant that residents were having to move outside the district to neighbouring towns like Welwyn Garden City and Hemel Hempstead - meaning they are away from friends and family.

Another issue which has arisen from applications for care homes is the pressure on local GP practices from a large input of elderly people.

The Herts Valley Clinical Commissioning Group which represents local GPs put in a strongly-worded objection to the Signature Homes scheme.

They pointed out that it would introduce residents from outside the local area and county without a proportional increase in resources to reflect their likely health needs.

The frailty of such residents would inevitably result in increased demand for GP home visits and have a knock-on effect on community nursing care, secondary care and hospital admissions.

The clinical commissioning group also referred to the impact on mental health services, such as dementia care, which are already over-stretched with long waiting times for assessment.

Despite the situation in St Albans, it is better off than in other parts of the county. In North Herts 19 per cent of the district is currently aged 65 or over and that is projected to rise to 24 per cent by 2037. In both Hertsmere and East Herts, 23 per cent of the population is expected to be 65 or over in two decades time and in Broxbourne it is 22 per cent.

As for the population aged 85 and over - that is currently running at two per cent but is expected to rise to four per cent by 2037.