Tokyo Notes

Doctor in the House?

Japan has a significant shortage of doctors, a new government survey shows.

Japan needs another 24,000 doctors, according to a government survey released this week. Stories in recent years of over-stretched hospitals refusing to admit emergency patients or women in labour have grabbed headlines, especially when the results have been fatal. So it’s good to see that at least an attempt to get some sense of the extent of the problem has been undertaken.

The study, the first of its kind, essentially showed that doctors would rather work in big cities like Tokyo (with a shortfall of 8 percent) than in rural areas such as Iwate Prefecture in the northern region of Tohoku (shortfall of 40 percent). The study also showed that departments seen as the most onerous, such as obstetrics (24 percent shortfall) and emergencies (28 percent), are suffering most from the shortage of doctors.

Among measures under consideration to tackle the issue is the idea of insisting that those who study in an area suffering an acute shortage of doctors have to work in that region after qualifying. A related proposal involves covering part or all of the tuition fees of students who choose to study in these badly affected areas.

The fact that in Japan, one of the world’s most advanced nations, a person in a critical situation can be turned away by even one hospital, let alone several, is a sorry indication of the need for urgent action.