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The nation suffers a lack of facilities that provide emergency pediatric care after midnight or on holidays, according to a health ministry survey.

More than half the patients at emergency care facilities are children, according to the survey released Tuesday. The survey was conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry through April 2001.

The ministry divides Japan into 360 medical zones according to the number of medical facilities per resident. Less than 20 percent of the zones offer late-night care for children, the study says, adding the problem is partly due to a shortage of pediatricians.

There were 2.45 million emergency patients across Japan in the year to April 2001, and 1.23 million were children aged 15 or under.

Only 14 percent of the zones had emergency centers operating on weekdays after midnight, while the ratio climbed to 17 percent on Saturdays and 18 percent on Sundays and holidays. Regarding emergency care facilities diagnosing patients as needing operations or hospitalization, only 98 zones, 27 percent, had facilities with pediatricians available 24 hours.

The 98 were mostly concentrated in urban areas, according to the ministry.

Sixty-nine zones, or 19 percent, had emergency care facilities employing a pediatric staff rotation system for night and holiday shifts.

However, 220 zones did not have 24-hour standby or rotation shifts. Aomori, Yamagata and Saga prefectures had no emergency care facilities using rotating shifts.

Prefectural government officials in more than half of the 220 zones told researchers it is impossible to introduce emergency care facilities with pediatricians on 24-hour duty, citing a lack of equipment and qualified staff.

The government started a project to boost emergency care for children in fiscal 1999, but it has apparently been delayed. The government this year plans to designate 50 major hospitals as facilities where emergency services for children will be improved.

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