There is no end to the number of cases in which emergency patients suspected of being infected with the novel coronavirus are refused admission to hospitals.
Local governments are urged to establish rules to reduce the number of such cases that make ambulance transport difficult.
In the six weeks up to the end of May, there were about 8,000 cases at 52 fire departments across Japan in which they had trouble sending to hospitals patients who had called the emergency number 119. The cases were at a high level, 1.5 times more than the same period last year.
In each case, three or more times hospitals refused to accept a patient, taking 30 minutes or longer until a receiving hospital was decided. There have been cases where 10 or more hospitals rejected a patient. Many hospitals seem to be reluctant to accept patients who are suspected of being infected with the virus.
Suspected patients should be isolated from both patients who have tested positive and patients in general until they receive the results of their own PCR tests.
Meanwhile, doctors must wear protective gear.
Notwithstanding the fact that hospitals are not ready to accept such patients, the burden on the patients and paramedics is enormous.
It is essential for local governments to act as coordinators and decide in advance how to secure hospitals that take in patients suspected of being infected.
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, only 27 prefectures have decided in advance which hospitals will accept such patients.
The Saitama prefectural government has launched a system to designate hospitals that accept such patients and share information with fire departments on the number of beds available. Hospitals receive ¥50,000 per patient for their cooperation. This system can said to be a reference.
In cases where patients are being refused at several hospitals, the relevant local governments adjust where to send them. Hospitals with nighttime emergency services take turns accepting the patients. Such efforts have also begun in various regions.
Local governments, fire departments, hospitals and other related organizations should work together to quickly secure the necessary beds in accordance with the circumstances of their community.
What is important is to speed up tests to check for infection.
Currently, it takes about six hours to get back PCR test results. Antigen tests, though their accuracy is lower than that of PCR tests, should still be utilized actively as results are available in about 30 minutes and patients can be allocated to hospitals smoothly.
At present, the number of people infected with the virus is lower than at the peak, but it is still necessary to arrange receiving hospitals in preparation for another possible outbreak.
When influenza season comes, it will become difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of the flu from those of the novel coronavirus, as coughs and fevers are expected to occur more frequently.
The roles of medical institutions should be split by having seriously ill patients suspected of being infected with the coronavirus treated at major hospitals and those who are not should be examined at local hospitals.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 8, 2020.