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Editorial: Measures needed to protect medical workers after deadly standoff near Tokyo

A doctor who had dedicated himself to home medical care was recently gunned down in a hostage incident at a house in the east Japan city of Fujimino, Saitama Prefecture -- an utterly deplorable act.

    A physical therapist who was with the doctor also suffered serious shotgun wounds. The resident of this house, Hiroshi Watanabe, was arrested after an 11-hour standoff.

    The suspect was living with his 92-year-old mother and had been receiving visits by the doctor, Junichi Suzuki, to care for her for several years.

    After his mother died of illness, Watanabe called Suzuki and others and asked them to come to his home the following day to "offer incense" for her. Upon their visit, the suspect reportedly opened fire on them after his plea to resuscitate his mother was declined

    During a police interrogation, Watanabe told investigators, "My mother died, so I thought nothing good would happen from then on. I thought about taking my own life, and came up with idea of killing the doctor and others from the clinic."

    Police are urged to exhaust their investigations to unravel why this tragedy happened.

    Suzuki had been caring for some 300 patients through home visits. He paid consideration to each person's purpose in life, as well as requests from the patients' families. He also helped conduct drills to protect the lives of patients in the event of a disaster. The local community had a deep faith and trust in him.

    During the fifth wave of coronavirus infections in the summer of 2021, he rushed from one home to another to examine a large number of local residents.

    Watanabe, meanwhile, had had over 10 telephone conversations with a local medical association over the past year regarding the treatment of his mother. In the past, he had hurled abusive language at a staff member of a visiting care service his mother was using. Another time, he was seen yelling orders that his mother be examined earlier than other patients at the hospital he accompanied her to.

    In recent years, there have been instances of medical workers being subjected to physical and verbal abuse by patients or their family members, and the issue has become a social problem.

    At a hospital, several employees can respond to such cases. However, the same is difficult during home medical care, where only a handful of staff are involved. Unexpected circumstances could also emerge during doctors' home visits, as is the case with home care workers.

    In a survey targeting around 3,000 nurses visiting patients' homes, nearly half of the respondents, or 45%, said they were subjected to physical violence at their clients' homes.

    As Japanese society grays, the significance of in-home medical care services is ever increasing. It is necessary for society as a whole to devise measures to protect the safety of health care professionals. We must not leave this issue up to those on the ground alone.

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