• Reuters, JIJI

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About a third of medical institutions are cutting summer bonuses to staff, a trade union said Monday, as many hospitals and clinics face a cash crunch, having had to delay routine treatments to make room for coronavirus patients.

The Japan Federation of Medical Worker's Unions said that out of 338 organizations surveyed, 115 were planning to cut bonuses below last year's levels. Summer bonuses decreased at 122 of the 354 medical institutions for which year-on-year comparisons were available, while only 42, or 11.9 percent, saw growth in bonuses.

Tough working conditions along with pay reductions could persuade more medical staff to retire early, said Kenichi Igarashi, a member of the union's executive committee.

Although serious COVID-19 cases have abated, the epidemic brought the nation's medical system to the brink of collapse in April and May, as patients filled intensive care units and hospitals dealt with internal outbreaks.

"Hospitals that take in COVID-19 patients are especially hard hit financially, which is truly a sad thing," said Fumie Sakamoto, the infection control manager at St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo. "The future doesn't look bright, especially in Tokyo since the number of new cases is on the rise again."

Two-thirds of all hospitals in Japan are now operating in financial deficit, according to a Japan Hospital Association paper last month. The figure is 90 percent among institutions taking in coronavirus patients in Tokyo, where new daily infections have shot up to more than 200 in recent days.

But for medical workers, the reductions to bonuses, which they typically rely on as part of their regular compensation, effectively means a pay cut, and the financial strain is starting to affect worker relations.

A decision by Tokyo Women's Medical University to cut summer bonuses prompted up to 400 nurses to retire, local media reported last week. Medical staff at Funabashi Futawa Hospital staged a strike on July 10 over bonus cuts, according to photographs posted on social media.

Neither organization immediately responded to request for comment by Reuters.

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