Thursday, April 7, 2011 Cap on mainland births at all hospitals Cap on mainland births at all hospitals

April 7, 2011
Ella Lee

All hospitals in Hong Kong - public and private - will have to cap the number of mainlanders they allow to give birth on their premises, as the government moves to relieve stress on obstetric services for local women.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said the new curbs would cover all eight public hospitals and the 10 private hospitals with obstetric beds.

The move will trigger discussion among private operators on how the cap - or quota - can be shared fairly among them.

The health chief's decision comes after private hospitals said on Monday that they could only freeze the number of babies they deliver, not cut numbers or work under a quota.

"The total number of deliveries in Hong Kong has to be set at a certain limit so that we can maintain the professional standards and also the quality of care," Chow said. "All hospitals, no matter public or private, should work within a quota."

In two months, the government will come up with a quota based on facilities, manpower and demand at individual hospitals. The Department of Health, as the licensing authority for private hospitals, had the regulatory power to enforce the quota, Chow said.

A person familiar with the situation said that at present, the department only had the power to approve new obstetric beds, not to impose a quota on non-local patients. The new policy might involve changes to this.

The government is under growing pressure to reduce the number of babies delivered in the city amid complaints that services for local mothers and newborns are stretched to the limit. Senior obstetricians and paediatricians urged the government to freeze deliveries at last year's level of 88,000, of which about 40,000 were to mainland women.

Private Hospitals Association president Dr Alan Lau Kwok-lam (pictured) warned a rigid quota system could lead to a waste of resources. "If the quota for mainland mothers is not used up and there are not enough local mothers to fill up the capacity, it may lead to waste of manpower at private hospitals."

The head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Prince of Wales Hospital, Dr Cheung Tak-hong, welcomed the government's determination to solve the problem.

The Hospital Authority is also considering a ban on mainland mothers who do not have a Hong Kong husband, and a quota system for all public hospitals.

Many public hospitals, including Prince of Wales, Tuen Mun and Kwong Wah hospitals, stopped admitting mainlanders earlier this year.

But Lau said private hospitals could not limit services to mainland women married to Hongkongers because checking who they were married to might involve privacy issues.

Meanwhile, the deputy director of Union Hospital, Dr Ares Leung Kwok-ling, voiced concern about unethical agents luring mainland mothers to Hong Kong by exaggerating the shortage of obstetric services.

Under the present rules, pregnant mainlanders have to undergo pre-natal checks with Hong Kong doctors before the 27th week of pregnancy to be entitled to book obstetric beds at private hospitals for delivery.

Those who cannot produce a booking certificate are not allowed to cross the border.

Some agents have been arranging Hong Kong doctors to provide pre-natal checks for mainland mothers in Shenzhen and Guangzhou before they come to give birth here. From yesterday, the hospital will not recognise pre-natal checks conducted on the mainland.

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