Minister consults private hospitals on dealing with 'non-resident births' The government is consulting with private hospitals on ways to deal with the rapid increase in mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong. Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said yesterday that the government was looking at the capacity of both private and public hospitals to cope with non-residents' demands for obstetric and maternity services. He said he hoped there would be a policy in place to tackle the problem as soon as possible. But Alan Lau Kwok-lam, chairman of the Private Hospitals Association, said that private hospitals, which delivered between 16,000 and 18,000 babies a year, had reached their maximum capacity. Security Bureau figures show that in the first 10 months of this year, 12,398 babies were born in Hong Kong to non-resident parents, a 20-fold increase on 2001. In 2005-06, one-third, or 13,347, of the 40,752 babies born in Hong Kong public hospitals were to women who did not hold Hong Kong identity cards, most of whom were from the mainland. The rate was 25 per cent in 2003-04. Dr Chow has told Legco that in 2004-05 the number of cases in which non-residents defaulted on payments after giving birth in public hospitals was 1,670. This cost the Hospital Authority HK$12.64 million. In 2005-06, there were 2,318 defaults involving HK$25.58 million. He stressed that resident expectant women would get priority over non-resident women in obstetric and maternity services in local hospitals, and legislators for the welfare and medical sectors believe 'executive measures', such as refusing pregnant mainland women entry into Hong Kong, will be needed. 'Firstly, in terms of medical services, we need to see how the needs of those who suddenly need to give birth in the city can be taken care of,' said Dr Chow, speaking after a Unicef function. 'But the most important aspect is to look after the needs of expectant mothers in Hong Kong. We are very mindful of this priority and we are already working on how this priority can be ensured. We are talking with the Hospital Authority and private hospitals to see how many pregnant women the sector can deal with each year.' As for other, non-medical incentives for mainland mothers to give birth in Hong Kong (such as residency rights for the newborn children), Dr Chow said the government was studying 'complementary policy measures' that could be enforced. Referring to the Hospital Authority's problem of unpaid medical bills, Dr Chow said: 'The most important point is to ensure these patients are aware at an early stage that they need to pay medical fees, and that these fees need to be paid before they are discharged.' He said the government would also have to consider ways of recovering unpaid fees from 'those who do not pay'. As to earlier suggestions to raise medical charges as a deterrent, legislators for both the welfare sector and medical sector believe this would not solve the problem. Medical sector lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki has said if patients were determined to dodge fees, it would make no difference whether the fees are increased or not. He believes the government should tackle the root of the problem by using immigration officers' discretion to deny entry to pregnant women hoping to give their children permanent residence status in Hong Kong. Dr Lau said the Private Hospitals Association supported solving the problem by administrative methods. He said there were safety issues involved in pregnant women travelling and that such women could be denied entry into Hong Kong.