Investor apathy spoils hospital plan for mainland mothers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2007, 12:00am

A proposal to privatise a former public maternity hospital to deal with the influx of mainland mothers was abandoned due to a lack of interest from investors.

Private Hospitals Association chairman Alan Lau Kwok-lam said the Hospital Authority had earlier appealed to health care operators to take over the management of the Tsan Yuk Hospital in Sai Ying Pun.

The plan was to convert the hospital into a private maternity centre with more than 100 beds in a bid to relieve the burden on public hospitals. Dr Lau said a shortage of nurses and midwives in both the public and private sector meant the idea was not feasible.

'They talk about giving private hospitals the facilities, and we have to provide all the software and manpower. It means the operator needs more than 200 nursing staff on three shifts,' he said.

'We have said no to the proposal. Private hospitals simply have no capacity because we don't have enough medical staff, especially nurses.'

He said there was already 'unhealthy' competition for frontline staff among private hospitals.

Dr Lau said the political climate also deters private hospitals from taking up such a collaboration with the authority. 'We are worried that if the government hands over a public hospital to us for private services, it will be blamed for subsiding the private sector business by using public money. It could be a political nightmare.'

Nine out of the 12 private hospitals in the city provide 400 maternity beds that have the capacity to take care of 18,000 deliveries a year.

Dr Lau said although there was plenty of demand for services, local private hospitals were not taking radical steps to expand their maternity services.

'We don't know if the government will suddenly stop the influx one day, there are so many uncertainties,' he said.

'Hong Kong's birth rate is dropping; if suddenly mainland mothers are not allowed in, many maternal beds will be left vacant.'

Private hospitals are more willing to invest in new technology in treatment for chronic diseases amid the ageing population.

'For example, for heart disease, diabetes, hip replacements and more, we are sure there will be plenty of patients in the future.'

Dr Lau said private hospitals were never a favourite choice for investors as health-care returns were slow to be realised.

'It is not like buying stocks or building property projects - health care can't make quick money. Not many people are interested in building new hospitals.'

Tsan Yuk Hospital, a former public maternity hospital, became an outpatient centre three years ago because of a drop in the local birth rate. The Hospital Authority yesterday said it had no plans to open the public beds for pregnant women.

From February 1, the government will bar entry to heavily pregnant mainland women who do not have bookings with local hospitals.