HK to tighten checks on mainland mums

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 April, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong is to tighten up the scrutiny of certificates which mainland mothers-to-be need in order to give birth in the city's hospitals as the controversy continues over pressure on maternity units.

In a related move, health chiefs will also set up a working group to carry out audits of all obstetric units to determine the number of births the city can handle each year.

Amid stretched maternity services, public hospitals have banned mainlanders from giving birth here until the end of the year.

Health officials did not say how they will ensure unscrupulous doctors and dodgy agencies on the mainland cannot issue certificates.

The two moves are among a seven-point initiative put forward by the Food and Health Bureau to limit the number of mainland women giving birth in the city.

'Mainland women will need to prove that their pregnancy is normal in order to give birth in Hong Kong. If they need to travel a long distance, that could be dangerous and certificates should not be issued,' Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok said.

At present, mainland women need to get certificates from doctors if they want to give birth in public or private hospitals.

Under the yet-to-be fleshed out plan, the certification process will be centralised, Chow said after a meeting yesterday afternoon with private and public doctors, and specialists from the Hong Kong College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the College of Paediatricians.

He hoped this would minimise the influence of illegal mainland agencies and unscrupulous doctors who over-issued certificates.

Under the plan, private and public doctors must follow a new set of guidelines when they determine if a woman's pregnancy was 'normal'.

The new policy is expected to be piloted in some private hospitals in the first quarter of next year and expanded to all by the second quarter.

Chow said private hospitals should reject doctors if they were found to have committed 'unprofessional behaviour', such as issuing certificates to women before they came for an assessment or performing Caesarean sections prematurely.

A working group will meet next month to set a quota for births in the city next year, after clinical audits on the capacity of each hospital.

Chow said that from next year, the working group would meet in the first quarter to determine the quota for the following year.

Asked if the government would adopt a suggestion to set the quota at 88,000 each year, Chow said a decision would only be made after careful study of the capacity of each hospital.

He urged mainland women not to risk giving birth in Hong Kong's emergency rooms, adding the bureau would step up co-operation with the Immigration Department to stop pregnant women from rushing across the border at the last minute.

Chow promised that priority care would be given to local mothers, and that the high quality of medical service must be maintained.

Prince of Wales Hospital obstetrics consultant Dr Leung Tak-yeung said the initiatives could only solve part of the problem.

'We should control the number of mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong, not just categorising them into high-risk and low-risk,' Leung said.

Private Hospitals Association chairman Dr Alan Lau Kwok-lam said they supported the government's initiative, but it was difficult to determine the quota now.

Lau said no private hospital had co-operation with agencies that arranged for women to give birth in Hong Kong, and that some hospitals had started punishing doctors who put women at risk by delivering babies prematurely.

Hong Kong College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Professor Hextan Ngan Yuen-sheung said that since there was no guideline on high-risk pregnant women, they would draw up one.