In January, a 75-year-old Japanese man called an ambulance after suffering from breathing problems. Instead of being saved, he died after 25 hospitals rejected him 36 times during a two-hour drive to find a doctor who would treat him, Agence France-Presse reported.
According to Rocketnews24, the man, who lived alone in the city of Kuki in Saitama prefecture, called an ambulance around midnight. Paramedics soon arrived, but all 25 hospitals in the area refused to accept him, reportedly giving reasons like “lack of available doctors” and “ a shortage of beds.”
Paramedics finally found a hospital in neighboring Ibaraki prefecture, another 20 minutes away, but the man was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. According to AFP, the cause of death is still unknown.
The issue is becoming a matter of increasing concern for Japanese health care experts; the man from Kuki is not the first to die after being turned away by hospitals. According to the Huffington Post, a 69-year-old Japanese man died in 2009 of head injuries after 14 hospitals refused to treat him, citing similar reasons. In fact, a 2007 Japanese government report said as many as 14,000 emergency patients were rejected at least three times before getting treatment, noted the Huffington Post.
Ironically, experts say, part of the problem lies in Japan’s low-cost healthcare system. According to the Washington Post, a hospital visit costs half as much in Japan as it does in the U.S. thanks to government subsidies — but as a result, emergency rooms are often flooded with patients seeking routine treatments. Problematically, there are no laws punishing hospitals for turning away sick people or penalties for patients who overuse the system.
A Kuki official told AFP that the city had asked hospitals to improve their emergency room capacity, but that may not be enough. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, Japan’s demand for medical care will triple in the next 25 years as its population ages, and the current healthcare system is not sustainable without an overhaul.