Hospitals curb services for mainland mums

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 April, 2011, 12:00am


Officials at two leading private hospitals in obstetrics care said yesterday they had taken steps to cut or freeze childbirth services for mainland mothers.

They said they did this long before the government said it wanted hospitals to exercise 'self-discipline'.

On Tuesday, Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said private hospitals and doctors should use self-discipline to temper the volume of maternity services for mainland mothers.

He was addressing a growing concern that an influx of pregnant women from the mainland had strained local obstetric and neonatal services.

Chow plans to meet more than 10 public obstetricians and pedestrians this afternoon on the issue and to hold a meeting with private hospitals and doctors on Monday.

Baptist Hospital, which handles the most deliveries in the city, said yesterday it had already cut its maternity services since last year.

Dr Raymond Chen Chung-i, the hospital's chief executive, said the number of deliveries had dropped from more than 13,000 in 2009 to about 12,000 last year. About 70 per cent of those babies were born to non-local mothers.

'We have been exercising self-discipline, we don't want the public to see Baptist Hospital as providing only maternity services,' Chen said.

He said the hospital would consider giving priority to local mothers. At present, maternity beds are given on a first-come, first-served basis.

'The problem the public hospitals are now facing is a serious shortage of both doctors and midwives,' Chen said. 'It is not about having no beds for local mothers.'

Many of the city's 13 private hospitals have been rapidly expanding their maternity wards since it became a trend for mainland women to give birth in Hong Kong. This followed the court's ruling in 2001 that gave residency to children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents.

At present, the Department of Health imposes no cap on the number of maternity beds in each hospital. But such a cap will be introduced in four planned new private hospitals; maternity beds will make up no more than 20 per cent of total beds.

Chen said the hospital now had 153 maternity beds, or 18 per cent, out of a total of 850.

'We are still under the 20 per cent cap that the government wants to introduce in new hospitals,' he said. 'It is not true to say that we only put emphasis on maternity services.'

The Union Hospital plans to gradually increase the ratio of local mothers in its obstetric services from the current 35 per cent to 50 per cent, said deputy medical director Dr Ares Leung Kwok-ling.

The hospital hopes to do this within a few years by attracting more local mothers and freezing the number of mainland mothers, Leung said. The hospital handled about 7,500 deliveries last year, 4,900 of them to non-locals.

'We are a private hospital in Hong Kong and we want to do more to serve Hong Kong people,' he said.

Leung said private hospitals had to co-ordinate their services with each other and also the public sector. 'I believe that private doctors and private hospital operators all have social consciousness.'

Dr Robert Law Chi-lim, a private specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, agreed that the capacity for maternity services in Hong Kong had reached its maximum.

'It would be easier for public hospitals to cut services first because there is no one in the private sector who can order a cut for all,' Law said. 'Private hospitals can make an agreement on any adjustment by discussion. It should not become a confrontational situation.'