Lack of maternity beds at crisis point

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2007, 12:00am

Local mothers forced to use public wards as mainlanders flood into private hospitals

The shortage of maternity beds at private hospitals has reached crisis point and is compromising local mothers' rights to quality services, say local women and doctors.

They said the growing influx of mainland women to give birth was using up much of the capacity in the private hospitals, forcing local mothers to seek beds in public hospitals.

The Private Hospitals' Association hopes that the situation will improve after private hospitals this month began charging mothers a deposit of between HK$3,000 and HK$20,000 to discourage multiple bookings.

Mainlanders make up 40 per cent to 60 per cent of maternity patients in private hospitals. The number of babies born to parents who both come from the mainland jumped to 12,596 in the first nine months of this year, up 17 per cent year on year.

Most of the obstetric beds in private hospitals are fully booked until June or July next year.

One private obstetrician revealed that his clinic has been trying to find maternity beds for 14 local mothers who were on the waiting list of Hong Kong Adventist Hospital.

The hospital wrote to doctors on November 1 saying that it could not take these patients. Two of the women have since given birth in public hospitals; two others are due at the end of this month, while the rest are due before April.

The clinic has not been able to secure any bookings for them.

'This is because most hospitals are accepting bookings for women expected to be due in June 2008 at the time when this letter was sent out,' the doctor said, adding that these mothers did not book at other hospitals because they had been reassured by the Adventist Hospital that their bookings would be 'no problem'.

'We are using every means to help these mothers, including asking some public doctors we know well to take them as private cases. The mothers are all very worried, it is a rather crisis situation,' the doctor said. 'The private hospitals should consider giving priority to local mothers.'

The Adventist Hospital said: 'Due to overwhelming demand in the obstetrical ward beds, we were unable to serve some mothers-to-be on some busy days. We have organised a taskforce to address the problem and implemented a new booking system.'

The hospital said some mothers would be referred to its sister institution, Tsuen Wan Adventist Hospital.

Private obstetrician Robert Law Chi-lim said it was now almost impossible for women who were more than three months pregnant to book a bed in private hospitals.

Dr Law said in the past two weeks, at least three of his patients tried but failed to secure a booking in private hospitals and had to book a bed in a public hospital.

Private obstetrician Yu Kai-man said in the past month about five of his patients had to book public beds after being unable to book a private bed. 'The mothers and the private doctors are very unhappy. But as all the private hospitals are running at full capacity, what can we do?'

Association chairman Alan Lau Kwok-lam admitted that the private sector could not meet demand, but said local mothers making multiple bookings had led to the problems.

A grandfather is expected to file for a judicial review today in an attempt to block a Hospital Authority policy of charging pregnant mainlanders what he says are punitive fees for pre-natal checks and treatment.

Fok Siu-wing, 65, whose mainland daughter-in-law is due to give birth late next month, said he hoped the authority could halt the measure until the court case had been settled.

Mr Fok says his daughter-in-law should be entitled to free medical services as his son is a Hongkonger.

Birth pangs

A total of 48,910 babies were born in Hong Kong in the first nine months this year

The percentage of babies born to mainland mothers was about: 40%