Japan will need 69,000 more nurses in April 2008, but the supply will likely fall well short of that mark if current trends continue, according to the Japan Medical Association.
The association said a total of 881,000 nurses will be needed around the nation at that time, compared with 812,000 at the end of October 2006.
However, the annual increase in nurses was about 30,000 from 1999 to 2004, of whom only about 10,000 join hospitals a year. If this rate continues, it would leave hospitals short by 20,000 to 50,000 nurses by April 2008.
The association is particularly concerned that the nurse shortage will hit rural areas hard because nurses tend to seek jobs at large hospitals in cities where the pay is higher.
The association made the estimate based on questionnaires sent to 3,185 hospitals, of which 2,091 responded. The hospitals that responded make up about 25 percent of all hospitals in Japan.
The top standard for nurse numbers at hospitals is "one nurse for every seven patients." If a hospital meets that standard, it receives the maximum level of medical treatment fees paid by the medical insurance system.
The survey showed that 16.3 percent of hospitals with 300 or more beds reached that standard in fiscal 2006. The hospitals plan to push the ratio to 38.8 percent in fiscal 2007 and to 54.6 percent in fiscal 2008, the survey showed.
But an annual increase of 30,000 nurses will not be enough, the association said.
The association proposes programs to train more assistant nurses to fix the problem.
But some experts said the problem is that hospitals with sufficient nursing staff are continuing to recruit nurses.