The number of hospice facilities for terminally ill cancer patients in Japan remains far smaller than the demand, covering only 1.8 percent of cancer patients who died in this country in 1999, it was learned Sunday.

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry panel that recently surveyed hospice facilities nationwide says beds at such facilities should be increased to five times their current number if the nation aims to be on a par with Britain, known as the world’s pioneer in hospice care. The panel plans to compile a set of proposals in July.

The first-ever government survey on the state of hospice care for terminally ill patients, carried out last July, said 79 hospice facilities in operation throughout the country accommodated 6,972 inpatients in fiscal 1999.

Most of the patients who died at such facilities in the fiscal year were suffering from cancer, numbering 5,318 and accounting for a mere 1.8 percent of the 290,556 people who died of cancer in Japan during the year.

The situation is a far cry from Britain, for example, where 20 percent of people who die of cancer receive hospice care, a member of the ministry panel said.

Cancer accounts for roughly 30 percent of deaths in Japan. In a 1997 survey by the then Health and Welfare Ministry, 49 percent of Japanese adults said they hope they would receive hospice care if they were in the terminal stages of their illness, while 32 percent said they preferred regular hospitals.

However, the latest survey shows that hospice facilities are in extremely short supply compared with the evidently strong demand.

According to the ministry survey, the 79 hospice facilities had a combined 1,467 beds. Each facility accommodated an average of 100 inpatients, and the bed occupancy rate reached 74 percent.

The ministry team, led by Satoru Tsuneto, chief of the hospice team at Yodogawa Christian Hospital in Osaka, also examined the number of staff at the facilities and opinions of the relatives of deceased patients.

While most of the patients’ relatives said they were satisfied with the service provided at such facilities, some respondents said they wanted the operators to provide more information.

Hospice care emphasizes alleviating pain and anxieties of terminally ill patients, rather than focusing on treatment to prolong their lives.

It was developed first in Britain in the 1980s and has since spread worldwide. Since Japan’s health insurance program started covering hospice care in 1990, the number of facilities offering such care has increased from five to 83 at the end of last year, with the number of beds rising from 117 to 1,537.

However, a Health Ministry official said the survey showed the supply of hospice care in Japan is still lags far behind demand.

Ministry officials also said hospice care should be offered on a flexible basis, so that terminally ill patients being cared by their relatives at home or those receiving treatment at regular hospitals can receive similar care.

According to the ministry survey, 92 percent of the hospice facilities polled accept outpatients, while 78 percent offer their services to patients at their homes by dispatching staff or cooperating with local welfare workers.

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