Japan to name and shame hospitals that refuse Covid-19 patients, amid anger over baby’s death
- Move follows death of a baby born last week to an infected woman forced to give birth at home after being turned away from ‘several’ hospitals due to lack of beds
- With the Paralympics about to begin, average infection levels are 3.4 times as high as when the Olympics began around a month ago
The woman, who had Covid-19, could not deliver her baby at hospitals in Kashiwa city, Chiba prefecture, as no maternity beds were available in isolation wards. She gave birth at home alone 10 hours after first seeking medical care but her premature newborn died.
Local health officials confirmed that “several” hospitals refused to accept the woman, with the episode fuelling public criticism as many hospitals had accepted government subsidies at the outset of the pandemic last year to provide care for Covid-19 positive patients.
Health Minister Norihisa Tamura held talks with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike on Monday, after which a statement was released calling on all medical institutions and universities training medical staff “to cooperate” in the fight against the virus.
The request said hospitals and clinics across Tokyo needed to provide as many beds for inpatient treatment as possible and training institutions needed to dispatch personnel to places requiring assistance.
Pointedly, it added that the request was being made under the terms of the infectious disease prevention law, which was revised in February to give health authorities more power to force private hospitals to comply with their demands during a health-care crisis. The cities of Osaka and Sapporo have already cited the law in making similar requests, but this is the first time the national government has used it to pressure the medical sector.
Government officials have also hinted strongly that any hospital that declines to comply will be named.
“It is perfectly legal to do that and, I would say, also perfectly appropriate to identify hospitals that have accepted government subsidies but are now refusing to accept new [coronavirus] patients,” said Jun Okumura, an analyst at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs.
“I strongly suspect that there was a lot of negotiating in the early stages of the pandemic and the government had to offer subsidies to hospitals that were getting by on their existing caseloads and were reluctant to take on more patients,” he said.
“Speaking as a member of the public and a consumer of health services, I feel it is only right and proper that [hospitals] going back on those agreements [be] named and shamed – and I would argue that is far more damaging to their reputations than simply permitting them to return the subsidies and nothing more be said,” Okumura said.
Health authorities in Tokyo reported 2,447 new cases on Monday, down by 515 from a week previously. However, experts have cautioned that many more cases have not been detected and the actual number of infections in the city is on the brink of an “uncontrollable, disaster-level emergency.” They have also warned that medical services in the city will collapse unless the crisis can be brought under control.
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There is also growing concern about infections among children, particularly as new school terms are to start soon. There were around 100 children infected with the virus each day in early July, but that figure had soared to 856 cases on August 19.
Monday’s figure for Tokyo was eclipsed by the 2,579 cases in Kanagawa prefecture, which is rapidly emerging as an area of concern for the authorities.
Nationwide, 16,859 people tested positive for the virus, below the 20,000 threshold for the first time in six days, but also a record high for a Monday. Authorities reported that 1,898 people were being treated in intensive care units, while there were also 32 deaths.
The Tokyo Paralympics are nevertheless going ahead, with the opening ceremony scheduled for Tuesday evening and events starting on Wednesday. The seven-day average of new infections on Friday stood at 3.4 times the level recorded on July 23, the opening day of the Olympic Games.