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The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Friday that it will close an additional 15 state-run medical facilities and privatize 17 others over the next five years.

The 32 medical facilities are among 45 national hospitals and sanitariums targeted for elimination under the second phase of a long-term Health Ministry plan to reorganize and refocus the state-run health-care system.

In a provisional report released Friday, the ministry said the government will formulate a plan on what to do with the remaining 13 state-run medical facilities by the March end of the current fiscal year.

The hospital reorganization plan, first drawn up in 1986, involves closing or selling 87 of the 239 state-run hospitals and sanitariums.

The government had already closed or sold off 42 facilities as of March.

“We have more or less accomplished our mission,” said a senior Health Ministry official in charge of reorganizing the medical institutions.

The ministry argues that the government must redefine the role played by state-run medical facilities because private and local public hospitals now provide the bulk of general health care in Japan.

State-run hospitals and sanitariums were first set up shortly after World War II and accounted for as much as 30 percent of the nation’s medical facilities by around 1950.

The percentage has plunged over the years, with state-run hospitals now accounting for just 5 percent of the total, Health Ministry officials say.

According to ministry officials, 19 of the 32 targeted facilities were originally slated to be shut down. However, eight of them will be sold to private operators.

Out of 13 national hospitals targeted for privatization, the ministry now plans to close four by the end of fiscal 2003.

Of the four hospitals, three are in Hokkaido — at Noboribetsu, Teshikaga and Wakkanai — and one in Akita Prefecture.

The plan also calls for merging National Children’s Hospital and National Okura Hospital, both in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, into a new hospital in March, offering mainly pediatric and infertility treatment.

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