Minamisoma municipal hospital to begin dialysis treatment

15 July 2017

The Minamisoma Municipal General Hospital in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, is poised to launch dialysis treatment within the 2017 fiscal year ending next March. It has become difficult for new dialysis patients to find treatment options in the Soma region on the Pacific coast since the 2011 earthquake and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. In response, the hospital intends to secure equipment for dialysis treatment and necessary personnel in partnership with the prefectural government, Fukushima Medical University and local medical institutions. Other local hospitals will also enhance their capacity for providing the therapy to pave the way for improved medical environment, enabling evacuees to return home permanently with peace of mind.

The municipal hospital plays a key role in medical care in the Soma region that lies in the northern coastal part of the prefecture. With dialysis patients expected to increase along with progress in the termination of evacuation areas, the hospital has judged it necessary to improve regional medical services.

The hospital plans to purchase about eight dialyzers by capitalizing on a new subsidy program scheduled to be introduced by the prefectural government within fiscal 2017.

Treatment is to be overseen by a team of doctors and nurses at the hospital. In order to treat as many patients as possible, the hospital will request the central and local governments, as well as Fukushima Medical University, provide manpower support, including the dispatch of specialist doctors. Consultations among the parties concerned are expected to begin soon. The hospital is also considering asking medical institutions in other regions to dispatch nurses and other staff as trainees in dialysis treatment.

Other hospitals already offering dialysis therapy are moving to improve services. Fukushima-Minpo Co., publisher of the namesake local daily, has learned that at least two of the four hospitals in the Soma region are considering purchasing more dialyzers -- two by the Soma Central Hospital in Soma city and one by the Ohmachi Hospital in Minamisoma. The Soma Central Hospital is set to increase the number of patients it can accommodate by accepting personnel such as nurses from other medical institutions elsewhere in the prefecture.

Prefectural and other officials believe that more people have come to suffer diabetes and other diseases in the Soma region since the quake and nuclear disaster. The residents' age and their prolonged stays in evacuation housing are blamed. The four hospitals in the region offering dialysis treatment can accept only about 200 patients at the most due to the shortage of doctors and nurses. New patients finding it difficult to receive treatment at the local hospitals have no choice but to visit those in the neighboring prefecture of Miyagi. But Miyagi hospitals are straining under the weight, making it hard for them to provide treatment to patients from Fukushima and thus boosting the need for action to strengthen local medical services in the Soma region.

Zones being prepared for the lifting of evacuation orders and residency-restricted zones were terminated this spring in the Soma region, except in the towns of Okuma and Futaba which host the crippled nuclear plant, further prompting the return of evacuated residents. Officials involved in medical care believe the planned increase in the number of new patients accepted in the Soma region "can produce the extra effect of promoting the homecoming of evacuees" to the region as well as to the Futaba region that lies south of Soma.

According to the Fukushima government, the number of dialysis patients in the prefecture continues to rise, reaching some 5,000 in fiscal 2016. But doctors and nurses are in short supply in mountainous areas, forcing patients to visit urban hospitals when local treatment services are insufficient. Efforts to improve preparedness for treatment are called for across the prefecture.

(Translated by Kyodo News)