Friday, April 1, 2011 Doctors want births in city capped at 88,000 a year Doctors want births in city capped at 88,000 a year

Ella Lee
Updated on Apr 02, 2011

Doctors urged the government to cap the total number of births in Hong Kong at 88,000 a year - last year's figure - amid growing concern that the number of mainland mothers has overstretched local health care services.

The figure was proposed at a meeting between Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok and a group of public doctors campaigning to control the influx.

Last year 40,000 of the 88,000 deliveries were to non-local mothers; 45,000 babies born in Hong Kong were delivered at private hospitals.

The doctors' group quoted Chow as saying that he agreed with the proposed cap, but his spokesman said later that the secretary agreed in principle that the number of deliveries should match the local manpower situation. Chow said in a statement last night that the health care of local expectant mothers should not be compromised.

"The Hospital Authority will reserve sufficient places for local pregnant women to ensure that they have priority over non-local pregnant women in the use of obstetric services," he said.

Chow also expressed deep concern at the rising number of babies born in Hong Kong to mainland mothers in recent years, from 13,000 in 2004 to more than 40,000.

"It really puts pressure on our obstetrics services and neonatal intensive care units, and maybe even the paediatrics services, and we need to address the issue in respect to patients' safety and in the interests of local expectant mothers," he said.

Dr Cheung Tak-hong, group member and head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Prince of Wales Hospital, said any more than 88,000 deliveries a year would compromise patient care.

Cheung said the cap could be achieved by private hospitals capping their delivery number at last year's level of 45,000 a year while public hospitals gradually cut their admissions of mainland mothers.

The doctors' group, supported by about 800 public health care workers, says the booming private obstetrics market has attracted many experienced public doctors. The growing demand of mainland mothers had put public neonatal services under severe pressure as most parents chose the cheaper public services.

"We understand that it is difficult for the government to use any hard rules to limit the maternity services in the private market, but it can at least sit down and talk to the private sector and play a co-ordinating role," Cheung said.

He said that based on a calculation that about 2.5 per cent of all newborns needed intensive care, the ideal total number of deliveries would be 75,000 a year.

Dr Alan Lau Kwok-lam, president of the Private Hospitals' Association, said it could not comment on the proposed cap before the sector reviewed its manpower situation.

Dr Ares Leung Kwok-ling, deputy medical director of the private Union Hospital, said the cap was a good starting point.

"But of course more details have to be discussed, and it does not mean we can't do 87,000 or 89,000," Leung said.

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