The Japanese government has begun deliberations on transferring some operations of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) to other ministries. The operations being considered are those related to food safety standards and water supply maintenance. The work of the MHLW continues to increase amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Transferring the two operations would allow the MHLW to focus on healthcare issues, such as drug approval procedures and responding to infectious diseases, as well as long-term nursing care and employment.
The government will hold a meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters on June 17 and formally decide on measures to prepare for future infectious disease crises. The participants will confirm that discussions will be held on the establishment of a “Cabinet Secretariat Infectious Disease Crisis Management Agency” as a command center for infectious diseases, and the transfer of some MHLW operations to other ministries.
The government will consider transferring the operations related to food safety standards and water supply that are currently under the jurisdiction of the MHLW’s Pharmaceutical Safety and Environmental Health Bureau.
This bureau is in charge of drug administration and also handles approval of therapeutic drugs and vaccines. Although the bureau’s operations have become more important amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the bureau has been criticized for its slow response to vaccine approval.
The ministry or agency to which the two operations will be transferred is still under discussion. There are proposals to transfer food safety standard operations to the Cabinet Office Food Safety Commission or the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and water supply operations to the Ministry of the Environment or the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. A person at the Prime Minister’s Office says that “reorganization of the MHLW is indispensable in order for it to focus on healthcare and infectious disease control,” which was the impetus for the reorganization of government agencies.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the MHLW has been under pressure, having taken on many pandemic-related duties. The MHLW’s burden is expected to increase with the declining birthrate, aging population, and implementation of work-style reforms. The MHLW staff’s working hours are among the longest of the ministries and agencies, and there has been talk of reorganizing the MHLW in the past. Transferring some MHLW operations to other ministries will reduce some of its burden and lead to more expeditious pharmaceutical management.