Disaster-hit municipalities struggling to secure public health nurses

24 July 2017

With a little more than six years past since the 2011 earthquake and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, affected municipalities are taking great pains to secure public health nurses. Demand for them is growing as it becomes increasingly important to care for the health of evacuees, but more than half of the cities, towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture that are requesting the dispatch of such nurses and other help have failed to cover their shortages. The prefectural government solicited applications for fixed-term public health nurses from across the country last month but applicants have ended up falling shy of its desired number.

While it remains a challenging issue to maintain and manage the health of evacuees as their lives away from home are protracted, it has also become necessary to take care of evacuees returning home in growing numbers for permanent residency following the termination of evacuation zones, thus adding to the shortage of helping hand.

Of municipalities where evacuation zones were set up following the quake-caused tsunami and ensuing nuclear accident, the number of those which requested the dispatch of public health nurses was 11, all located in the Hamadori region on the Pacific coast. Five of them -- the cities of Iwaki and Soma and the towns of Okuma, Futaba and Shinchi -- have had their needs satisfied, while shortages remain in Minamisoma city, the towns of Hirono, Tomioka and Namie, and the villages of Kawauchi and Iitate. The 11 municipalities had asked for 31 public health nurses in total but only 21 have been seconded. This is a far cry from July last year, when all of them had their required numbers of such nurses, highlighting the current keen shortage.

In June this year, the prefecture requested all local governments across Japan to invite 15 fixed-term public health nurses for employment in the Fukushima municipalities concerned in fiscal 2018, but only four have since applied. This appears to be attributable to reluctance to work in disaster-hit areas, where many take up jobs away from their families, as well as a nationwide shortage of such nurses.

An official in one Fukushima town singled out obesity, hypertension and other health problems worsening among evacuees as an urgent issue to be addressed. The official expressed a sense of crisis, saying, “The burden on public health nurses is growing ever as they are forced to do hard work such as moving between the restored town office and places where evacuees live.”

The prefecture is poised to consider taking relief measures on its own while seeking help for manpower supply from the central government as well as from across the country through the National Governors’ Association and other parties concerned.

(Translated by Kyodo News)