Death of pregnant Japanese woman sparks controversy

Tokyo - The death of a 36-year-old pregnant woman who died after she was refused admission by seven hospitals in Tokyo sparked heated debates over a shortage of doctors, newspapers said Thursday.

The woman's gynecologist had asked a Tokyo hospital earlier this month to urgently treat the expecting mother, who was suffering from unusually acute headaches, but the clinic rejected her, saying no obstetrician was on duty. Six other hospital also refused admission.

She eventually gave birth to a baby and received surgery for a brain hemorrhage but died three days later.

The news shocked the nation mainly because the victim was refused by hospitals in Japan's capital, where medical facilities are known to be the best prepared in the whole nation, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.

The seven hospitals that refused to admit the expectant mother said they suffered a lack of doctors on a graveyard shift or failed to staff necessary medical personnel, the daily said.

Japan is haunted by a shortage of doctors, especially at emergency rooms, and is facing a serious shortage of obstetricians due to overwork and high risk of lawsuits, according to the newspaper.

Despite the Tokyo government's efforts to raise salaries for obstetricians and improve their work conditions, it faces difficulties in securing sufficient personnel, officials said.

The shortage of obstetricians, particularly in Japan's countryside, has drawn public attention following a series of cases where pregnant women died after being refused admission by a number of hospitals.

In August 2006, a pregnant woman was refused admission by 18 hospitals and died at a hospital in the western Japanese province of Nara.

Some 2,452 pregnant women were refused treatment by two or more hospitals in Japan between 2004 and 2006, according to a government survey.

Thousands were made to wait more than three hours until an ambulance found a hospital that could admit the expecting mothers, according research by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. (dpa)