August 30, 2007 / 4:37 AM / 11 years ago

Miscarriage jolts Japan to address doctor shortage

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s health minister promised to try to resolve a shortage of doctors after a pregnant woman miscarried in an ambulance during a frantic three-hour search for a hospital that would accept her.

Eight hospitals turned down the 38-year-old woman, who was six months pregnant, and the ambulance carrying her collided with a minivan on its way to the ninth, said a fire department official in Nara, western Japan.

Her waters broke several minutes before the accident and the baby was born dead. The woman and medical staff were uninjured in the accident, which occurred on Wednesday.

“The nearest hospital was just three minutes away,” the official said. “Instead, the ambulance had to drive 70 km.”

Japan suffers from a shortage of doctors and emergency hospitals, especially in rural areas.

The number of obstetricians, in particular, has declined, with medical students put off by long hours and a rising number of malpractice suits.

Last year, a woman died in Nara after 19 hospitals refused to take her after she lost consciousness while giving birth.

“The shortage of doctors is a big social problem that Japan is confronting and I want to deal with it,” Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said in a television programme late on Wednesday.

The top government spokesman said on Thursday there were shortcomings in the country’s medical system.

Faced with a extremely low birth rate and a rapidly ageing population, Japan has vowed to alleviate worries about healthcare, including scholarships for doctors willing to work in remote regions.

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