Stop Medical Care Breakdown! –Medical Doctors Demonstration in Tokyo– by Yasui Keitaro

Shortage of doctors and nurses and closure of medical institutions continue. On November 20, 2011, in order to make a breakthrough in the current “medical care breakdown,” 2,500 medical workers from across Japan, including 800 doctors, rallied at Hibiya Park, Tokyo.

“Treatment” is necessary on the medical care system
The rally, “Doctors Demonstration 2011” was called for by the National Medical Doctors Union, Japanese Medical and Dental Practitioners for the Improvement of Medical Care (Hodanren), Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions (Min-Iren) and others. It was the largest medical doctors’ protest action in 50 years since 1961, when the universal health insurance system was introduced.
Upholding the demand, “Rehabilitation from Earthquake Disaster and Resurgence of Medical Care”, after the rally, the participants marched from Hibiya Park to Tokyo Railway Station.
Dr. Ueyama Naoto, the representative of the National Medical Doctors Union, opened the rally on behalf of the organizer. “Our universal health insurance system is at stake. More and more people are deprived of the health insurance card due to poverty and cannot seek medical care at the hospital. The cause of the current breakdown of medical care is found in the very unhealthy medical care system. While public healthcare budget, the blood of the nation essential to maintaining health, has been cut down significantly, neo-liberalism, like cancer cells, is spreading all over the country.” He further appealed, “But Japan’s medical system still has a pulse and is breathing. We are sure it can revive if a good treatment is given. We need cooperation from the people across the nation for this treatment. Let us create a great surge of nationwide movement to save our medical care system, and mark a new and historical step forward.”

Appeal from Disaster-stricken Areas
In the rally, the representatives from the earthquake disaster-stricken areas reported on the current difficult situations faced by local medical institutions.
Dr. Yamanome Tatsumi of the Emergency Medical Care Center of the Iwate Prefectural Ofunato Hospital spoke of the difficulty in the control of patients’ blood pressure, due to the shortage of medical institutions in Rikuzen Takada City. “Even after the patients moved from emergency shelters to temporary housing, their average blood pressure is 145 – 149.” He also said, “We cannot take precautionary measures for cerebral vascular diseases or heart diseases, as half of health nurses in the city were killed in the disaster. We have a staff shortage, as support medical teams from other prefectures have been withdrawn. I still feel that I am crawling around in the battlefield, dodging bullets flying over my head. After this rally, I must go back to the battlefield. I sincerely ask for your continued support in our medical activities.”

Continued Large-scale Movement is Necessary
Dr. Shinohara Terue, dental surgeon at Kyoritsu Dental Clinic of Yamaguchi Prefecture said, “Some patients, even in the midst of treatment, stop coming to the clinic, because they cannot afford to pay the cost of care.” “We need to revise the system to lower the self-pay burden of the patients so that they can feel at ease in continuing their treatment until the end”, she said.
Mr. Kobayashi Tetsuyuki from Chiba, scholarship student of Toshin Medical Cooperative Union of Nagano Prefecture said, “Ueda Consumers Cooperative Union’s Clinic in my local area is a clinic with 19 beds, but has only 2 full time doctors, and they are always very busy. The current shortage of medical doctors may lead to medical accidents from overwork. I joined this rally thinking we need to do something about it. I want to continue campaigning for better medical care, working together with the people in the community.”
Although the Japanese government pledged the abolition of the medical care system for the latter-stage elderly, and achieving the number of doctors and the scale of medical expenditure equivalent to the average OECD level, none of these pledges have been achieved so far. As the result of the FY 2010 medical remuneration revision, the government’s medical expenditure increased by only 0.19%.
Both medical treatment fees and nursing-care benefits will be revised in 2012. In order to establish a society on the responsibility of the State, where all people can enjoy good medical care without any worries, we need to redouble our effort to develop the movement.