The Japan Medical Association (JMA), once the most powerful lobby group with mighty political clout, still clings to its position of staunchly opposing any scheme to increase the number of doctors, in order to protect its own vested interests.

At a recent series of meetings of a study group sponsored by the health and welfare ministry, diametrically opposed views were expressed on whether the nation needs more doctors. Leading the proponents of increasing the number of medical students was Kozo Imai, head of the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science. He argued that unless drastic measures are taken, areas like Hokkaido will face an acute shortage of medical doctors.

Toshio Nakagawa, JMA vice president, countered by saying that a further increase in the number of doctors would force them into the same plight as dentists, whose incomes have been dwindling because there are too many dentists. With Prime Minister Mori throwing her support behind the JMA, it appeared as though a plan for new medical schools had hit a snag.

In Chiba, the number of physicians younger than 60 years of age per 1,000 residents 75 years of age or older stood at 14.08 in 2010. That is projected to dwindle to 8.05 in 2030. Comparable figures for Saitama are 13.30 and 6.77; Ibaraki’s numbers are 11.51 and 7.19. Tokyo has better ratios of 23.02 and 18.02. Having seen these numbers, one doctor lamented that unless the situation is rectified drastically, there would be an increasing number of elderly persons who wouldn’t receive medical treatment and would die in solitude.

Kanagawa Prefecture, with a population of 9.06 million, just south of Tokyo, also faces acute shortages. There are only four medical schools in the prefecture — the same number as in Fukushima Prefecture, which has fewer than 2 million people. The ratio of doctors for the population around Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture, is said to be lower than that of Egypt or Syria.

The once powerful JMA may well be headed toward its doomsday, in step with Japan’s deteriorating medical services.

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