Table Speech

The Post-Earthquake Society and Doctor-Helicopter

February 8, 2012

Mr. Takaji Kunimatsu
Chairman of the Board,
Emergency Medical Network of
Helicopter and Hospital

 The term “Doctor Helicopter (medical air rescue)” has gradually come to gain recognition, yet there is still a long way ahead. Our organization believes the deployment of “Doctor Helicopters” at all prefectures is the prerequisite to “save lives.” My speech today will be on the significance of Doctor-Helicopters after the Great Earthquake.

<Is the society capable of safeguarding people’s lives in crisis?>
 The Great East Japan Earthquake posed us wide-ranging issues, of which the most basic challenge was how to “establish a social mechanism that values human life.” The Great Earthquake claimed as many as 20,000 lives, making us realize anew the preciousness of life. Historic facts prove that a great earthquake entails a series of major earthquakes. In case we are exposed to the same situation, we should take immediate and determined measures to save lives.

<Always try to be prepared for “crisis”>
 Japanese people do not necessarily lack a sense of crisis, yet we fail to make our daily preparations. Being a former ambassador to Switzerland, I learnt that the Swiss take an opposite stand regarding crisis preparations in their daily life.

 The Swiss recognize that crisis situations underlay their everyday life and they can surface anytime, thus they try to be prepared always. On the other hand, we Japanese consider crisis situations to be an extraordinary happening that disrupts our peaceful daily life. We tend to take quick countermeasures to get life back to normal and then try to erase disturbing memories. Japan is a disaster-prone country. Our ancestors have long coped with earthquakes and typhoons through stopgap measures. Considering the imminent danger, it is time for us now to make daily preparations against the possible series of earthquakes.

<Formulate a mechanism to “take a secondary measure”>
 Here in Japan, primary emergency response measures have been formulated and are implemented when necessary. Yet, when it comes to secondary measures, they are insufficient compared with some other countries. After the great disaster, we frequently heard the expression “unexpected” or “beyond assumption”. We must question, however, whether it was really “unexpected” or we simply failed to make sufficient investment for safety.

 I believe the Great Earthquake made us realize today the necessity for crisis management in our daily life.

<Systematic problem in the Japanese emergency medical care>
 Secondary emergency medical system must be formulated to complement the primary system based on dispatching ambulances. Doctor Helicopter can be the solution.

 An overarching regional medical system that transcends prefectural borders is needed to transport patients to hospitals without delay. Here again, Doctor Helicopter serves the purpose.

 Should a catastrophic earthquake happen, concerted measures are needed across the country. A coherent mechanism is required that guarantees harmonized activities between Doctor Helicopters and fire-fighting helicopters.

 Nationwide deployment of Doctor Helicopters is also effective to redress regional disparities in emergency medical care. In Tokyo, ambulances transport patients to a “critical care center” in 15 minutes. In Osaka, it takes about 20 minutes, while it takes more than 1 hour in 17 prefectures. Doctor Helicopters can play a crucial role.

<Function and advantages of Doctor Helicopters>
 Doctor Helicopters are stationed at hospitals with critical care center and rush to an emergency spot with physicians and nurses on board. Thus, emergency medical care can be provided on site from the initial stage and contribute to the drastic improvement in survival rate. Operating expenses are shared between national and prefectural governments.

 Four years ago in Aichi Prefecture, a three-year-old boy fell into a pond and nearly froze to death. Doctor Helicopter rushed to rescue the boy and took him to a children’s hospital in Shizuoka Prefecture. Thanks to the best judgment made by the physician on site, the boy recovered remarkably without any aftereffects.

<Present state of Doctor Helicopters in Japan>
 32 Doctor Helicopters are deployed in 27 prefectures at present. Each helicopter is mobilized over 400 times per year.

 Helicopters of the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard also engage in emergency patient transportation, yet they are restricted to Okinawa, Nagasaki or Ogasawara Islands. This makes the deployment of Doctor Helicopter necessary to guarantee immediate transportation.

<Basic ideas behind the institutional design for Doctor Helicopters>
 Fundamental policy will be formulated through legislative proceedings. The enactment of the Doctor Helicopter Special Act in 2007 has facilitated smooth implementation of various initiatives. Special tax allocation grants have been utilized since 2009. “Parliamentary Group for the Promotion of Doctor Helicopters” was established with 139 parliamentarians. “Doctor Helicopter Widespread Use Promotion Panel” was also established as an organization affiliated to the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations.

 Doctor Helicopters are “public properties” and should be supported by the joint effort of the public and private sectors. We founded the “Doctor Helicopter Support Fund” and have raised nearly 80 million yen to date. We have utilized the fund for medical training and safety training sessions.

 Let me close my speech by asking for your continuous support to Emergency Medical Network of Helicopter and Hospital.