Hong Kong is restricting the number of mainland Chinese women allowed to give birth in the city’s hospitals which are struggling to cope with the tens of thousands who arrive each year.
The number of mainland women who opted to deliver across the border accounted for nearly half of Hong Kong’s 88 thousand births last year. The Hong Kong government has placed a freeze on accepting non-local women into public hospitals until the end of December. It’s all part of a much broader picture: how Hong Kong can support an influx of babies that ultimately will have rights to education, employment and welfare.
Reporter: Sonja Heydeman
Speakers:Professor Gabriel Leung, Under Secretary for Food and Health, Hong Kong government
HEYDEMAN: Hong Kong’s government has come under immense pressure in recent weeks after doctors made a rare public call for a cap on the number of babies delivered in the city as resources for local mothers are stretched thin. The Hong Kong government’s Under Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Gabriel Leung says the main issue involves the capacity of the health system in both public and private sectors to deal with pregnant women who want to give birth in Hong Kong. He says the objective is for local Hong Kong women to have a place in a hospital of their choice.
LEUNG: My undersatnding in agreement with the private hospitals is they would be given priority and I’ve been given the reassurance that they have been given priority, even in the private sector since 2006. So that is the overiding policy objective number one. Then secondly the key question is how should we and what policy levers we should be using to ensure the highest possible quality of care for pregnant women to give birth in Hong Kong and this would apply to all pregnant women who give birth in our system and of course how could we make sure that any medical needs of newborn babies be taken care of best?
HEYDEMAN:Professor Gabriel Leung says a freeze on accepting non-local women in the public hospital system is a temporary stop gap measure.
LEUNG: While we try to plot a way forward in concert with all vested stakeholders into this particular issue. So in fact the public hospital bookings have been filled until October November. So for all intents and purposes we really have only one month left in 2011. And as for 2012 most of those babies have not yet been conceived so we still have a month or two to finalise our plans and then we will have a whole package of policy announcements to deal with this problem comprehensively.
HEYDEMAN: Many mainland Chinese mothers are keen to give birth in Hong Kong, because it will entitle their child to right of abode and education. In 2010, figures showed 40 thousand Chinese babies were born in Hong Kong .. accounting for 45% of all Hong Kong births .. a more than a 10% increase since 2005. Professor Gabriel Leung says clearly this is more than just a health services issue. He says it’s part and parcel of a much larger approach to population policy.
LEUNG: Really the obstetrics and the neo-natal health service is really the first of many issues we need to address comprehesively in the medium term, including if and when these newborns choose to as they come to Hong Kong for schooling, that would be an education issue and of course an employment which some view quite positively because Hong Kong like most developed nations has an aging population and a population pyramid that increasingly looks like and inverted triangle, rather than a true pyramid so that’s the labor issue. And then there would be associated welfare issues with regards to the provision of health services as well as other welfare services and social services to these newborn babies who would become Hong Kong permanent residents by birth.
HEYDEMAN: Professor Leung says these issues need to be discussed openly within the community.
LEUNG: What we need to do in the immediate future in the next month or two is to ensure the two overriding policy objectives are met in terms of the health services and then in the medium term to really think through, throughly discuss and flesh out all the issues with regards to education, welfare, social services and ultimately the population policy the make up of Hong Kong society in the coming decades.