Ministry to push nursing robots to aid caregivers

JIJI

The health ministry is launching a program to promote the use of nursing care robots to meet expected increases in demand in the face of Japan’s rapidly aging population.

In 2025, Japan is forecast to need 2.4 million nursing care workers, up from 1.49 million such workers employed in 2012.

But the turnover rate in nursing care services is higher than in other sectors, as caregivers have to lift or move elderly and other people, often leading to back pain and other physical problems.

By assisting the elderly in their daily activities, nursing care robots therefore are seen reducing the burden on caregivers.

But many caregivers complain about a shortage of robots to meet their needs. For their part, robot-makers say they need more places to demonstrate their products.

In November, therefore, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare started recommending 15 makers of robot nurses to 20 nursing homes chosen from some 260 facilities that applied to join demonstration trials under a ministry initiative. The 15 companies include Muscle Corp., the Osaka-based developer of a robot called Sasuke that can move a person from a bed to a wheelchair and vice versa.

The ministry expects the trials will familiarize nursing homes with robots and help manufacturers understand how to make the machines more user-friendly.

An increasing number of companies are entering the market. The use of nursing care robots remains limited, however, not only due to shortages of models that meet actual needs but also because of a belief at nursing homes that human workers provide the best care, said a ministry official in charge.

To promote the use of robots, the ministry plans to publish booklets on their benefits and hold seminars for nursing homes.

As the absence of safety standards for robot nurses is another factor discouraging nursing homes from using them, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry intends to work out regulations possibly by the end of the current fiscal year.

Nursing care robots are in “an age of transition,” a senior health ministry official said. “Once they are widely used in care facilities, the government will provide a range of support measures to make them available for care at home.”