Ambulance crews in Japan struggle to get hospitals to accept suspected COVID patients
TOKYO -- Ambulance teams in Japan are struggling to have medical institutions accept patients suspected of being infected with the coronavirus amid a surge in cases across the country.
Of emergency cases that required medical transport crews to call hospitals at least four times to seek a place for their patients -- called "dispatch difficulty" cases -- the patients were suspected of being infected with the virus in 991 instances across Japan during the week of July 26 to Aug. 1 -- up 42% from the week before.
Emergency patients are suspected of being infected with the coronavirus if they have a fever of at least 37 degrees Celsius or difficulty breathing. In the period between July 26 and Aug. 1, there were 533 "dispatch difficulty" cases in Tokyo, up 60% from the previous week, according to a survey conducted by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
While the Japanese government has indicated a policy to limit hospitalizations to patients with severe symptoms in areas where infection numbers are surging, it has become clear that the situation concerning emergency transport -- where medical personnel can respond to patients at home whose conditions suddenly deteriorate -- is getting worse.
Cases are counted as "dispatch difficulty" cases if an ambulance team makes the four or more requests to medical institutions and if they stay at the site of the emergency for at least 30 minutes. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency surveys 52 firefighting headquarters nationwide in areas such as prefectural capitals where there are many instances of patients receiving emergency ambulance transport, and releases the figures to the public every week.
Suspected coronavirus infection cases in Japan are thought to include heatstroke patients as temperatures soar, but the number of infected people is significantly increasing in Tokyo and some other prefectures under states of emergency. In Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, there were 119 "dispatch difficulty" cases involving suspected coronavirus patients in the city of Yokohama -- up 28% up from the previous week; 37 cases in the city of Kawasaki -- a rise of 76%; and 17 cases in the city of Sagamihara -- an increase of 113%. While the number of cases in the city of Saitama north of Tokyo remained at three -- the same as the week before -- the city of Chiba southeast of Tokyo saw an 11% rise to 42 cases. In the western Japan city of Osaka, there were 71 cases, up 29%.
In Tokyo, the number of patients transported by ambulances, including cases where coronavirus infection was not suspected, stood at 1,292 -- a rise of 15% from the previous week -- surpassing 1,000 for the second straight week. These instances mark the first time the figure was above 1,000 since the "third wave" of infections hit Tokyo during the year-end and New Year holidays. The situation is feared to affect regular medical care because COVID-19 patients are occupying hospital beds and utilizing doctors and other medical manpower resources, denying medical staff the chance to respond in conventional ways.
(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi and Takashi Kokaji, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)