College hospitals to get infant ICUs

Kyodo News

The education ministry announced plans Friday to establish intensive care units for newborns at all national university hospitals over a four-year period starting next April.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which has jurisdiction over university hospitals, came up with the plan to address the problem of hospitals refusing to accept pregnant women because of a shortage of facilities and doctors.

The ministry said nine national university hospitals do not have ICU facilities for newborns. It also said it plans to increase the average number of beds for prenatal care to 20 from 11.4 at 21 national university hospitals, or about half of the total university hospitals in the nation.

The education ministry has sought ¥5.8 billion in the fiscal 2009 national budget to finance the project, the officials said.

In October, a 36-year-old woman was rejected by eight hospitals in Tokyo. She was later accepted by a metropolitan hospital, where her baby was safely delivered prematurely by Caesarean section. She died three days later of a brain hemorrhage.

In September, a pregnant woman in her 30s was rejected by several hospitals also in Tokyo and was eventually accepted by a metropolitan hospital and gave birth and underwent treatment for a brain hemorrhage.

The nine national university hospitals that have no NICUs include Yamagata, Fukui, Yamanashi, Saga and Nagasaki university hospitals. The ministry will establish at least six beds with NICUs at those institutions during the four-year period, the officials said.

The ministry has recently surveyed 113 national, private and local government-run university hospitals that offer prenatal care, they said.

The survey found that the average number of beds for prenatal care was 11.4 at national university hospitals, a figure much smaller than the average 29.8 for private university hospitals and 16.0 for public university hospitals.

Of the 113 university hospitals, 79 were found equipped with NICUs. Those NICUs were found chronically occupied, with the operation rate standing at an average 93 percent in fiscal 2007, which ended last March.

The number of deliveries in that fiscal year was 50,047, representing a 20 percent increase from fiscal 2005. The number of high-risk deliveries, such as premature births, accounted for 20,791, an increase of 24 percent from fiscal 2005, the survey found.