• Kyodo

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Japan's shortage of health care workers is impacting families of hospitalized children, with a recent survey showing approximately 85% of affected parents are forced to regularly care full-time for their children despite paying patient fees.

Not only did the survey by St. Luke's International University show some 70% of these working parents have had their professional lives impacted, whether by the need to quit entirely or take leave, the issue is also compounded by the fact that the facilities are not sufficiently equipped to host them.

Parents are usually not served meals, and they often have to sleep on makeshift beds or sleep next to their ailing children in the same bed. Some parents can be required to stay for months at a time depending on their child's situation.

As the issue has increasingly garnered negative publicity for the government, the health minister tasked his ministry with conducting a survey on hospitals and families of hospitalized family members, including adults, to gauge the situation.

"We'd like to consider taking appropriate steps based on the results (of the survey)," Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters in Tokyo on Nov. 24.

The government's survey covers some 300 hospitals nationwide and around 3,000 people whose family members are hospitalized, according to the ministry.

The university survey conducted in conjunction with a nonprofit organization named Keep Moms Smiling, which supports families of sick children, also showed more than half of parents who were required to accompany their children experienced negative health impacts due to difficulties accessing decent meals and getting enough sleep.

The survey was conducted online from December 2019 to February 2020 to find out about the lives of families with hospitalized children and the support they receive.

Of the 1,054 parents who responded nationwide, 94% were mothers, the survey said. Some 69% of the hospitalized were preschool children, while 39% were under 2 years old.

By period of hospitalization, 85% of parents of children who were hospitalized less than one month stayed with them, while 86% accompanied their children who were hospitalized for longer periods. Many parents, some 30%, said they had nobody who could take their place in caring for their child.

The survey showed 45% of respondents had jobs, with half, including those not engaged in paid work at all, feeling more financially insecure after their child was hospitalized.

"The situation needs to be improved by such means as creating a better environment for parents to live in hospitals or allocate more staff who can deal with children undergoing treatment without being accompanied by their parents," said Kyoko Kobayashi, professor at St. Luke's International University.

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