Patients and next of kin filed 199 suits against state-owned hospitals between January 1995 and last August, according to a recent government reply to a parliamentary questionnaire filed by House of Representatives member Nobuto Hosaka.
The annual tally of legal suits filed against state hospitals rose every year except in 1998.
An official at the Health Policy Bureau of the Health and Welfare Ministry said: “We cannot generalize whether 199 suits in five years, or 40 to 50 cases per year on average, are a lot.
“Many state-owned hospitals are advanced medical institutions and offer complex services. Against this backdrop, it is a fact that there is a conspicuous number of accidents recently.”
The official further acknowledged the need to take more measures to prevent malpractice.
Since 1995, the ministry has issued warnings following medical malpractice incidents on 25 occasions, but 20 of the 25 were issued since January 1999, the government’s reply to Hosaka showed. Hosaka is a member of the Social Democratic Party.
State-owned hospitals have around 10 percent of all the hospital beds available throughout the nation. The number of suits filed against these hospitals is proportional to this figure, according to the official.
Last year, 48 malpractice suits were filed against state-owned institutions, or 7.5 percent of the record 638 cases filed against all hospitals in Japan, according to the Supreme Court.
The reply showed lawsuits against state hospitals totaled 29 in 1995, 30 in 1996 and 36 in 1997, but dropped to 27 in 1998 before rising to 48 in 1999. This year, 29 suits had been filed as of August.
The number of suits filed against all medical institutions in Japan from 1995 through 1999 came to 2,909, and has been rising annually, the Supreme Court said.
Some 53 of the 199 suits against state institutions have been settled.
Of the 53, the court recognized negligence on the part of the hospitals in two cases and the state reached out-of-court settlements in 25 cases. The remaining 26 cases were either dropped or dismissed, the document showed.
There are 128 cases currently before district courts, 17 at higher courts and one before the Supreme Court.
The tally covers state-owned hospitals, hospitals affiliated with national universities and other state-affiliated medical institutions.
In almost all the cases, the state has denied charges of negligence.
In the first of the two cases ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the court ruled in a 1995 suit that the National Iwakuni Hospital in Yamaguchi Prefecture was negligent in connection with a baby who was born with cerebral palsy.
In the second, a hospital affiliated with the department of dentistry at Hiroshima University lost a suit filed in 1998 over a botched jaw operation.
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