TOKYO -- 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.Quote has been trimmed
He died 90 minutes later at the facility that finally relented - one of thousands of victims repeatedly turned away in recent years by understaffed and overcrowded hospitals in Japan.
Paramedics reached the accident scene within minutes after the man on a bicycle collided with a motorcycle in the western city of Itami. But 14 hospitals refused to admit the 69-year-old citing a lack of specialists, equipment 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.
One of the hospitals agreed to provide care when the paramedics called a second time more than an hour after the accident. But the man, who suffered head and back injuries, died soon afterward of shock from loss of blood.
The death prompted the city to issue a directive ordering paramedics to better co-ordinate with an emergency call centre so patients can find a hospital within 15 minutes. But hospitals cannot be punished for turning away patients if they are 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 the hospitals' practice of refusing care.
In that case, the woman was refused admission by 19 hospitals that said they were full. She died eight days later from a brain hemorrhage after falling unconscious during birth.
Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe told a parliamentary committee last year that the rising number of elderly patients hospitalized for months was taking up space that could be used to treat emergency cases.
Masuzoe urged the development of a community-wide support system to ease the burden on hospitals. The government also announced plans to increase the number of doctors and improve co-ordination among ambulances, emergency call centres and hospitals.