Hospitals have been scrambling to secure enough doctors during the unprecedented Golden Week holiday period that began Saturday, which was extended to 10 days to accommodate the Imperial succession.
By hiring doctors to work temporarily, many medical institutions have sought to give their regular physicians days off as the medical sector, along with other industries, aims to change the notorious culture of long work hours. However, some hospitals in rural areas have given up plans for temporary recruitment and are asking their own doctors to work longer instead.
M. Stage Co., a medical personnel resource service company based in Tokyo, said that as of April 22 it had received 4,538 requests to dispatch doctors between April 27 and May 6, about 800 more than what it received during last year’s Golden Week period.
While medical institutions usually seek doctors who can attend to inpatients during the holiday period, there is more demand this year for those who can see outpatients, according to the company.
“Many medical institutions have secured personnel well ahead of the holidays, but those that are still short have decided to offer higher pay,” said an M. Stage official.
Japan enacted a law to have one-off public holidays that will stretch the length of Golden Week this year. The government hopes that the added holidays will help the nation celebrate the enthronement of Crown Prince Naruhito on May 1, following the abdication of his father, Emperor Akihito, the previous day, and serve as a way to address the country’s long work hours.
The move has not been entirely welcomed though, because many businesses including banks and nursery schools will be closed during the period, and the longer holiday season can mean longer work hours and a disruption of work-life balance for those working in service industries.
“I wonder if the government thoroughly considered the impact on the medical front,” said an official at a hospital in Hokkaido.
Hospitals in rural areas are chronically short of staff and have struggled to find replacements.
The Hokkaido hospital itself began looking for substitute doctors to fill night shifts during Golden Week but the effort was in vain. Consequently, it decided to have its staff physicians work longer to fill overnight shifts, according to the official.
In Tokyo, Hamadayama Hospital in Suginami Ward, which conducts well over 1,000 orthopedic surgeries a year, has hired two doctors to work temporarily during the holidays. They will lend support to the hospital’s seven full-time doctors so that it can open some of its departments for four days during the vacation period and see patients who must come in for treatment at least once a week.
“We wanted staff physicians to take days off as much as possible, as we are urged to reform the way they work,” said an official at the hospital.
Japan has introduced a labor reform law in a bid to change long-held working behaviors, setting a legal cap on overtime work and implementing an equal pay for equal work principle.
Starting this month, major firms will be punished if they violate the overtime work cap of 100 hours per month and up to 720 hours per year.