Maternity beds full up to October
Less than a month into the Year of the Dragon, maternity places at the city's private hospitals are fully booked until October.
Any woman who wants to book a place will have to do so as early as five weeks into her pregnancy to ensure a bed during the auspicious year.
Former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen warned yesterday that if he became chief executive he might seek an interpretation of the Basic Law to halt the influx of mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong.
'If administrative measures are found ineffective, we must consider amending or seeking an interpretation of the Basic Law to completely solve the problem,' he said.
Two of the 10 private hospitals with maternity services are so full that they have no more places available in October; the other eight have a few openings on some days in the month.
All public-hospital maternity beds for non-local deliveries are booked until October, and four of the eight public hospitals with maternity wards have stopped accepting non-local pregnant women for the rest of the year because quotas are full. A quota of 3,400 births has been set for non-local women in public hospitals this year, down from 10,000 last year.
An obstetrician expressed worries that non-local women who failed to get a place could resort to giving birth in emergency wards, putting a greater burden on casualty services.
The 10 private hospitals account for some 600 maternity beds in the city and at least half of the 90,000 or so babies born annually.
St Teresa's Hospital in Kowloon, with more than 100 maternity beds, and Matilda International Hospital on Hong Kong Island, with more than 20 beds, said they had no more vacancies for October. A St Teresa's staff member said some women had booked as early as five weeks into their pregnancy.
Baptist Hospital in Kowloon Tong, the city's biggest private maternity service, has only limited spaces left for October. The hospital has at least 153 maternity beds and delivered 13,020 babies last year. A hospital spokeswoman said 80 per cent of mothers giving birth there last year were from the mainland.
The Post's request for a local September booking there was turned down as 'all bookings are full'.
Union Hospital in Sha Tin, with 90 beds, is one of the few private hospitals that gives local bookings a priority even when it is full.
'We understand some Hong Kong mothers may have difficulty when looking for a bed to give birth,' deputy medical director Dr Ares Leung Kwok-ling said. Hongkongers tended to 'shop around' and took longer to decide on a booking.
The hospital, which delivered 7,700 babies last year, 60 per cent of them to mainlanders, lets nurses decide whether to add extra bookings for Hong Kong women.
'The scheme is carried out by nurses and overseen by me. The decision should not be made simply by the doctors because there may be a conflict of interest over pay for those treating the patient,' he said.
Leung said that through the scheme he hoped half of the births at the hospital this year would be local.
Amid the outcry about the influx of mainland mothers to the city, private hospitals also said they expected the sector's cap on non-local deliveries would be cut next year, from this year's 31,000 births.
'There is a clear voice on what the public wants,' Leung said. 'As a hospital serving locals, I think we really should respond to such voices.'
Leung suggested a 10 per cent annual cut in the private hospital quota over several years.