TOKYO (AP) - After getting struck by a motorcycle, an elderly Japanese man with head injuries waited in an ambulance as paramedics phoned 14 hospitals, each refusing to treat him. He died 90 minutes later at one facility that finally relented—one of thousands of victims repeatedly turned away in recent years by understaffed and overcrowded state run hospitals.
Paramedics arrived at the accident scene within minutes after the man on a bicycle collided with a motorcycle in the western city of Itami. But 14 hospitals contacted to provide medical care for the injured 69-year-old all refused to admit him citing a lack of specialists, equipment, beds and staff, according to Mitsuhisa Ikemoto, a fire department official.
The Jan. 20 incident was the latest in a string of recent cases in Japan in which patients were denied treatment, underscoring health care woes in a rapidly aging society that faces an acute shortage of doctors and a growing number of elderly patients. There are not enough young people to pay for their socialized plan.
The motorcyclist, also hurt in the accident, was denied admission by two hospitals before a third accepted him, Ikemoto said. He was recovering from his injuries.
The man's death prompted the city to issue a directive ordering paramedics to better coordinate with an emergency call center so patients can find a hospital within 15 minutes. But hospitals still cannot be punished for turning away patients if they are already full.
Similar problems have occurred frequently in recent years. More than 14,000 emergency patients were rejected at least three times by Japanese hospitals before getting treatment in 2007, the latest government survey showed.
In the worst case, a woman in her 70s with a breathing problem was rejected 49 times in Tokyo.
There was also the high-profile death of a pregnant woman in western Nara city in 2006 that prompted the government to establish a panel to look into hospitals turning patients away.
In that incident, the woman was refused admission by 19 hospitals that said they were full and could not treat her. She died eight days later from a brain hemorrhage after falling unconscious during birth.
Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe told a parliamentary committee late last year that the rising number of elderly patients hospitalized for months was in part clogging up space for those needing emergency treatment.
Masuzoe urged the development of a community-wide support system to ease the burden on overcrowded and understaffed hospitals.
Free markets adjust to the needs of customers........ Government programs do not respond to needs, even life and death needs.