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Unnecessary deaths after 3/11

February 25, 2016


Survey: 138 hospital deaths were preventable in 3/11 aftermath


Unnecessary deaths after 3/11


Shortages of doctors, nurses and medicines and insufficient availability of artificial respirators after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami led to 138 preventable deaths at hospitals in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures.

The deaths could have been avoided if the medical institutions had given the victims those conventional medical services, a health ministry survey showed on Feb. 24.

To prevent similar deaths in future disasters, the research team that conducted the survey proposed that hospitals should routinely make preparations to maintain medical services in the event of a disaster.

The survey covered 1,042 people who died at 40 hospitals in the two prefectures within about three weeks after the earthquake hit their areas on March 11, 2011. The hospitals included those that were located in coastal areas hit hard by the tsunami and were expected to play central roles in the provision of medical services at the time of disasters.

In the survey, doctors, such as specialists on lifesaving and emergency medical procedures, looked into clinical records of those patients and interviewed the doctors who were in charge of them.

Of the 138 patients whose deaths were deemed preventable, 55 had been hospitalized since before the disaster.

The survey said that due to the concentration of patients in serious conditions in the hospitals that were expected to play central roles, their medical staff members were unable to offer sufficient services to them. This situation was cited as one of the main contributors to their deaths.

The lack of medical products cited by the survey as another cause included infusion solution and medicines.

The survey also said that some of the patients who died had suffered deterioration of their conditions while they were staying in their homes or evacuation centers. If they had gotten to the hospitals earlier, they could have been saved, it said.

At the time of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck the areas in and around Kobe, many people were crushed under collapsed buildings. Learning a lesson from the experience, the government launched disaster medical assistance teams (DMAT) whose members are dispatched to the scenes of disasters to save people immediately after they occur.

In the Great East Japan Earthquake, due to the tsunami, many of the victims were already dead when DMAT members arrived at the scenes of the disaster.

On the other hand, the number of people who needed medical services began to increase several days after the disaster struck due to the deterioration of the environment at evacuation centers, among other reasons.

“Preparations to prevent the deterioration of chronic diseases are required in addition to measures to treat external injuries caused by disasters,” said Yuichi Koido, a senior official of the National Hospital Organization Disaster Medical Center.

The research team that conducted the latest survey proposed that hospitals stipulate in advance the procedures to transport patients to hospitals outside the disaster areas.

It also advised that hospitals should conclude agreements with medicine wholesalers and other companies on preferential supply of medicines and medical equipment at the time of disasters.



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