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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 August 2007, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Miscarriage prompts Japan pledge
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

A Japanese ambulance
Emergency services took nearly three hours to find a bed
Japan's health minister has pledged to address the shortage of doctors in the country after a woman in labour was turned away by eight hospitals.

A ninth hospital refused to admit her even after she miscarried in an ambulance and her baby died.

The woman, who was in the sixth month of her pregnancy, lived just three minutes away from a hospital.

But she was forced to travel 70km (45 miles) by ambulance looking for a facility that would admit her.

The woman, who lives in the countryside, called an ambulance in the middle of the night because she was suffering from stomach pains and bleeding.

For more than an hour the ambulance crew tried to find a hospital to accept her. Eight refused.

Then on the way to a ninth hospital the ambulance crashed and the woman miscarried. The hospital then changed its mind and refused to admit her.

An official told ambulance staff that treatment would be difficult and they were already busy with an emergency operation.

Eventually, almost three hours after they first arrived to pick her up, the ambulance crew found a hospital that would take her.

Long hours

Last year a pregnant woman who lived in the same area died after she was refused admission by about 20 hospitals which said their beds were full.

The problem is there are neither enough doctors in Japan, nor emergency facilities.

It is especially bad in rural areas.

The number of obstetricians has declined - medical students are said to be put off by the long hours of training needed to qualify and a rise in the number of malpractice suits.

The health minister has promised to try to improve the situation. But measures already in place - like scholarships for doctors willing to work in rural areas - have not made much of a difference.


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