Emergency medic network fell shy in Niigata

Only 20 percent of hospitals linked to an emergency medical transport system responded to calls for information on available rescue support teams during the first day of the October earthquakes in Niigata Prefecture.

The system, established by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, was meant to coordinate the movement of injured people by matching hospitals’ requests for help with facilities and doctors available at other locations.

The ministry said Tuesday that only 20 percent of the 547 medical institutions and local municipalities taking part responded to its call to submit information on Oct. 23, when the first of a series of strong quakes hit Niigata Prefecture.

Ministry officials said the poor response was due largely to the fact that it was a Saturday, apparently creating a time lag until officials in charge of the system reported to the ministry the following Monday.

The temblors and their aftereffects killed 40 people and injured about 2,800.

Under the network, medical institutions and municipal governments in disaster areas are supposed to report the number of injured, while those in other areas are supposed to specify the number of patients they can accommodate, or the number of teams of doctors and nurses they can dispatch to the disaster-hit areas. The ministry started work to set up the system in 1996 after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

The ministry asked network participants at 7 p.m. Oct. 23, about an hour after the temblors struck, to enter the necessary information via the online network.

However, only 20 percent of medical institutions responded, the ministry said, adding that even in Niigata Prefecture, only half of the 14 hospitals taking part provided information.

In neighboring Yamagata, Fukushima, Gunma, Toyama and Nagano prefectures, eight out of 45 facilities responded to the request, the ministry said.

Only 28 percent of the facilities entered the information by the following day. The figure rose to 70 percent by Oct. 25, according to the ministry.

The ministry will review the system and consider changing methods of correspondence and the may to send e-mails through mobile phones in addition to computers, officials said.