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HOME  > Past issues  > 2021 March 3 - 9  > Suga gov’t sticks to policy of decreasing number of hospital beds in midst of COVID-19 pandemic
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2021 March 3 - 9 [POLITICS]

Suga gov’t sticks to policy of decreasing number of hospital beds in midst of COVID-19 pandemic

March 4, 2021

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in Japan’s healthcare systems that resulted from the cutback measures taken by successive Liberal Democratic Party-led governments. Nevertheless, the Suga government intends to enact a bill to further decrease hospital beds in the current Diet session.

Amid the pandemic, it is the availability of public hospitals that plays a leading role in dealing with COVID-19 patients. Health and Welfare Minister Tamura Norihisa on February 8 at a Lower House Budget Committee meeting explained that of 412 public hospitals which are targeted for the ministry’s cutback plan, half of them have the capacity to deal with COVID-19 patients and that 146 facilities have accepted such patients.

The Suga government at the beginning of February introduced in the Diet a bill to revise laws on medical care services. The bill aims to promote the existing project that provides cash benefits to hospitals that decrease the number of beds. It is unacceptable for the government to stick to its policy of decreasing the number of hospital beds although a shortage in hospital beds amid a surge in COVID-19 cases may become a major social issue. It is also unacceptable for the government to use revenues from the consumption tax, which was introduced under the pretext of improving medical and welfare services, to finance the hospital bed cutback scheme.

Furthermore, in the bill, the government expressed its intent to impose excessively long working hours on hospital doctors in order to bypass the doctor shortage issue. If the bill enacted, hospital doctors will be forced to work more than 960 hours of overtime a year, the government-set danger line for death from overwork (karoshi), as an “exceptional case”. The bill expresses no intent to increase the number of doctors so Japan will continue to have the lowest doctor per capita ration among OECD countries.

Together with the above-mentioned bill, the government submitted to the Diet a package of bills designed to increase national health insurance taxes and out-of-pocket medical expenses for the elderly aged 75 and over from the current 10% to 20%. These measures will cause elderly people, who are for the most part low-income earners, and people financially affected by the pandemic to hesitate to see doctors and accordingly would increase the number of people who suffer from the worsening of symptoms or even die due to a delay in seeking medical care.

Past related articles:
> Suga gov’t imposes redoubled burden of medical payments on elderly amid coronavirus-crisis [December 11 & 13, 2020]
> Nearly 40% of hospital doctors work overtime exceeding gov’t-set danger line for death from overwork [September 2, 2020]
> Welfare Ministry’s cutback list includes designated infectious disease medical institutions [February 27, 2020]
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