The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is expected to punish 95 doctors for illicitly obtaining and helping others obtain specially designated psychiatrist's licenses, and temporarily suspend most of them from practicing medicine in a move that could adversely affect regional health services.
Eighty-nine of the doctors had their specially designated psychiatrist's licenses revoked in 2016, while six others gave up their licenses before they were revoked.
The ministry has initiated a process to hear the doctors' arguments, and in March next year it will seek an opinion from the Medical Ethics Council on what action to take against them. It is expected the doctors will be suspended from medical practice for one to two months.
The illicit acquisition of licenses was uncovered in 2015 at the hospital of St. Marianna University School of Medicine in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. Licenses were withdrawn for 23 doctors who either used reports by other doctors to apply for their licenses or were in positions of guidance and overlooked this practice by others. Afterwards, the ministry conducted a nationwide survey and found improprieties in the acquisition of licenses by 49 doctors, while another 40 doctors who gave guidance for obtaining licenses were found to have acted improperly. In October this year, the ministry decided to revoke these doctors' licenses.
Doctors at the St. Marianna University School of Medicine who had illicitly obtained licenses were banned from practicing medicine for one month, while the doctors in positions of guidance were given two-month bans. Similar punishment is expected in the additional cases.
There is no precedent in Japan for officials to ban so many psychiatrists from practicing at once. Many of the specially designated psychiatrists are experienced, and include heads of hospital psychiatric departments and owners of clinics. Concerns have accordingly been raised over what effect the bans will have on local medicine. The ministry is expected to ask local municipal governments to consider ways to deal with the problem.
Specially designated psychiatrists decide whether to hospitalize mentally unstable people who are believed to be at risk of hurting themselves or others. They also receive preferential treatment in receiving health care fees paid to medical practitioners.
Some of the doctors have sued to have the ministry's decision to revoke their specially designated psychiatrist's licenses canceled.