The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will form about 200 medical teams and assign them to hospitals nationwide to bolster earthquake- and other disaster-response measures, ministry officials said Thursday.

The ministry has secured funds of 784 million yen to establish the teams, modeled after similar units in the United States, in the supplementary budget for fiscal 2004.

Although it originally planned to launch the project in fiscal 2005, the ministry decided to move the launch up following a series of powerful earthquakes that pummeled Niigata Prefecture in October, they said.

The medical teams will be deployed at hospitals close to facilities of the Self-Defense Forces or airports, allowing them to be dispatched by aircraft to disaster scenes.

The teams, each comprising about five doctors and nurses, will treat victims of disasters on the spot or in transit to major hospitals, in the case of severe injuries.

The notion of forming disaster assistance medical teams arose after a number of people died of so-called crush injuries in the Great Hanshin Earthquake — which hammered Kobe and its environs in 1995 — because they failed to receive appropriate treatment immediately after being rescued.

Team members will be specially trained at a state-backed disaster medical center in Tokyo.