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Mass medical strike looms as doctors, government fail to make progress
2024-02-15
Neither doctors nor the government showed any sign of backing down ahead of a mass strike by doctors scheduled for this week.
 
“There is no justification for the group action of doctors,” a high-ranking official of the presidential office told reporters in Seoul on Monday. “There is no going back now.”
 
Doctors threatened to go on a mass strike later this week to protest the government's plan to expand admissions across medical schools in the country by 2,000 to have a total of 5,058 students at these schools in 2025.
 
By increasing the quota every year, the government plans to add at least 10,000 doctors to the medical workforce by 2035.
 
Members of the Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA) were scheduled to hold an online assembly on Monday evening to discuss their course of action.
 
In a poll conducted last December, as much as 88 percent of the 10,000 members voiced their intention to join the strike should the government push through with its plan to expand admissions.
 
“The government cannot win this battle,” Roh Hwan-kyu, former head of the Korean Medical Association (KMA), wrote on his Facebook account on Sunday. “This is headed to a disaster because of the government’s stupidity, and it will ultimately be the people who pay for it.”
 
The Health Ministry said it may revoke the licenses of doctors who go on strike later this week.
 
“Saving lives is always difficult, and by having more people join in on it, we want to help reduce your burden,” Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong wrote in a letter to doctors, published on the ministry's Facebook account on Monday.
 
“Those who want to make hospitals sustainable workplaces, please do not doubt the government’s sincerity,” he wrote.
 
The ministry last week created a special task force to respond to the doctors’ strike scheduled later this week.
 
The task force will be able to press charges against doctors who refuse to return to work after the government issues them a directive.
 
According to the Medical Service Act, doctors who refuse to comply with the order to return to work can be punished with a suspension of their license for a year, or sentenced to up to three years of prison.
 
Any medical professional who is imprisoned could have their license revoked permanently, according to act.
 
The last strike by members of the KMA and KIRA in 2020 paralyzed parts of the medical system, inevitably leading to deaths of some patients unable to receive medical assistance on time.
 
The coordinated strikes came after the Health Ministry announced in July 2020 that it planned to increase the number of medical school admissions by 400 annually to a maximum of 4,000 in the next decade.
 
Also at the heart of the contention is the government’s proposal to establish a public medical school, which KIRA and KMA claim will distort the medical industry by encouraging new doctors to specialize in more profitable, nonessential services like cosmetic surgery.
 
The government has argued that an increase in the number of doctors is necessary to meet health care demands in rural areas with higher elderly populations. The ratio of physicians per 1,000 people in Korea stands at 2.61 in 2022, one of the lowest among OECD nations.
 
Not all doctors' associations are against the government plan. The Korean Hospital Association has issued statements in support of the government plan to expand medical school admissions, though it did ask the government to revise the quota.
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