Prepare Medical System for Shift to Class V for COVID-19

The number of cases in which emergency transports of patients take a long time is increasing. Before reviewing the status of COVID-19, the problems with the emergency medical system must be analyzed and necessary measures must be taken.

Since the end of last year, emergency calls and transports have increased significantly, and it has often been difficult to find facilities that will accept patients. The number of cases in which patients were refused by hospitals three times or more and had to wait for more than 30 minutes reached a record high for the fourth consecutive week.

At their peak, such cases exceeded 8,000 per week nationwide.

The exhaustion of emergency medical workers, who are forced to work long hours, is also conspicuous. In Tokyo, there was an accident involving an ambulance that appeared to have been caused by the driver falling asleep at the wheel due to fatigue. The three emergency medical workers in the ambulance reportedly had been working for 17 consecutive hours.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the normal functioning of the emergency medical system, and the situation can be deemed to be serious. The health and safety of emergency medical workers is also important for patients. There is an urgent need to secure personnel and review the system.

Of the cases in which it was difficult to transport patients, less than 30% of people were suspected to have been infected with the novel coronavirus, a smaller percentage than in past outbreaks. There are probably multiple factors contributing to the strain on emergency medical services, not just this winter’s coronavirus epidemic.

Prior to the pandemic, emergency transports had been increasing each year due to the aging of the population. The number temporarily declined sharply due to restrictions on social activities and other reasons, but has gradually returned to the pre-pandemic level. The addition of COVID-19 patients to the mix has led to the belief that emergency transports have increased as a whole.

The tight situation is also believed to have been affected by the difficulty of outpatients with a fever being treated at medical institutions. Even if people have a high fever, there are a limited number of medical institutions that accept them, and it is sometimes difficult for them to get an appointment.

There must be many cases in which people cannot find a medical institution to accept them and end up calling an ambulance even for minor illnesses. A situation must be avoided in which people with serious symptoms who are in need of emergency medical care cannot be saved.

The government intends to lower the status of COVID-19 under the Infectious Diseases Control Law from a disease “equivalent to Class II” to “Class V,” a shift to allow the disease to be handled at general medical institutions, like seasonal influenza.

After the change, it is hoped that any medical institution will be able to treat patients with a fever. However, if things do not go smoothly, emergency medical services will once again be plunged into a state of confusion. It is important to steadily improve the medical system, starting now.

Emergency calls are said to include less urgent calls, including pranks. Emergency medical services are a vital lifeline of society. The central and local governments should work to expand and improve consultation services that can be used by people who are unsure whether to call an ambulance. Each and every member of the public should also make sure to use them properly.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 25, 2023)