August 7, 2008

Hong Kong Hospitals to Stop Accepting Childbirth Bookings By Mainland Women

Excerpt from report by Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post website on 6 August

[Report by Mary Ann Benitez: "No Beds for New Mainland Mothers"]

All eight public hospitals offering maternity services will for the first time temporarily stop accepting childbirth bookings by mainland women from next month amid a surge in demand from expectant Hongkongers, the Hospital Authority said.

The suspension of bookings from September to December would ensure adequate provision for local mothers during the peak obstetric season, a spokesman said.

With private hospitals also reporting filled quotas for those four months, mainland women who are 28 weeks or more pregnant might have nowhere to go.

A total of 3,570 booking certificates for deliveries from September 1 to December 31 had been issued to non-local mothers, the authority said.

"It will be the first time that we have suspended bookings for such a long period -four months -and to such an extent as to cover all eight hospitals," the spokesman said.

Public hospitals provide 600 obstetric beds for about 40,000 childbirths a year.

To deter mainland women from abusing the service, fees for obstetric packages for non-locals were raised to HK$39,000 in February last year to coincide with an immigration policy requiring mainland women 28 weeks or more pregnant to show a booking certificate issued by a hospital when entering Hong Kong. Women without bookings have to pay HK$48,000.

The authority said mainland mothers could make bookings for deliveries at private hospitals.

But Private Hospitals Association chairman Alan Lau Kwok-lam said the nine private hospitals, with 3,000 obstetric beds among them, were also "fully booked during the same period, and this has gone beyond to January to February".

Dr Lau said he would expect that because public and private hospitals were booked out, heavily pregnant mainlanders would have problems entering Hong Kong under the 2007 immigration policy.

An Immigration Department spokesman said it would stick to its prevailing policy on pregnant mainland women. "There is no direct relationship between the hospital-bookings announcement and admission of the women. If they can meet our requirements we will allow them to enter Hong Kong."

Dr Lau said he believed good economic prospects were encouraging local women, mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, to start a family. "Pregnant local women say they feel comfortable with their life and their career, and family support is there. They see a bright future," he said.

The number of local women giving birth in public hospitals rose 8 per cent last year, the authority said. [passage omitted]

Originally published by South China Morning Post website, Hong Kong, in English 6 Aug 08.

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