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Anger grows over canceled surgeries, delayed treatments as doctors quit
2024-02-26
Complaints from patients are growing this week over canceled or delayed surgeries as more trainee doctors in Korea resign to protest the government’s decision to increase medical school enrollment quotas.

Gov't, doctors wage war of nerves as protest resignations mount
 
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare Thursday, over 9,000 interns and residents at 100 major hospitals in the country submitted their resignation letters as of 10 p.m. Wednesday.
 
The number represents 74 percent of all interns and residents at the 100 hospitals. It also includes an additional 459 trainee doctors who resigned on Wednesday. 
 
The ministry has ordered 808 more trainee doctors to resume work. A total of 6,038 of them have been ordered to resume work so far. 
 
The Ministry of Education said 11,778 medical students had applied for leaves of absence across 40 schools as of Wednesday, accounting for 60 percent of students. None of the applications submitted protesting the enrollment quota hike were approved.  
 
The mass walkout of trainee doctors across major hospitals nationwide is inconveniencing patients. 
 
“Even if it weren’t for the trainee doctors going on strike, we would have come to a bigger hospital in the first place,” a parent of a one-month-old infant suffering from a high fever told the JoongAng Ilbo, this paper’s affiliate, in front of the Sinchon Severance Hospital’s emergency room in Seodaemun District, western Seoul, on Thursday. 
 
They first visited a secondary hospital, assuming they could not see a doctor at bigger university hospitals. They ultimately had to come to Sinchon Severance Hospital after hearing that the baby needed treatment at a larger one.
 
A 94-year-old patient heading to the city-run Boramae Hospital in Dongjak District after experiencing shortness of breath was diverted to another hospital in Gwanak District as there were no spots for the patient. 
 
“The doctor had a hard time as there were no medical records at the hospital,” the guardian of the 94-year-old said, adding that the patient had been seeing doctors at Boramae Hospital for 25 years. “I feel anxious and frustrated seeing even public hospitals rejecting patients.”
 
On Thursday, Gangnam Severance Hospital in southern Seoul ran only 10 of its 22 operating rooms, according to Yonhap. Some 30 percent of surgeries at Asan Medical Center and Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital were canceled.
 
According to the Health Ministry, an additional 57 cases impacted by the doctors’ strike were filed at its support center as of 6 p.m. Wednesday. The total number comprises 44 surgery delays, six rejections of medical appointments, five cancellations of appointment bookings and two hospitalization postponements. 
 
The Seoul Metropolitan Government said Thursday that eight city hospitals — Seoul Medical Center, Boramae Medical Center, Dongbu Hospital, Seonam Hospital, Seobuk Hospital, Eunpyeong Hospital, Bukbu Hospital and Children's Hospital — will extend weekday service hours from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
 
The city government ensured that the emergency rooms of Seoul Medical Center, Boramae Medical Center, Dongbu Hospital and Seonam Hospital would operate 24 hours despite the rising resignations of trainee doctors. 
 
Boramae Hospital announced on its website on Tuesday that some trainee doctors at the hospital stopped work and that the hospital was operating on its emergency system.
 
The government on Thursday once again stressed that increasing the enrollment quota by 2,000 has been decided after comprehensive and lengthy consultations with experts.
 
“Increasing the number of doctors as quickly as possible is the resolution if we think about the difficulties people will experience due to the shortage of doctors,” Second Health Vice Minister Park Min-soo said during a press briefing on Thursday. 
 
Park added that the quota hike is essential considering multiple factors, including the prediction that the population of those at or above 65 will surge 70 percent in 2035.
 
Following the ministry’s announcement, the Korean Medical Association's emergency committee criticized the government’s reasons for increasing the medical enrollment quota. The committee also stressed that the government had never discussed the exact number for the quota hike with them before making the announcement. 
 
The government claimed it held 28 meetings with the association and representatives of trainee doctors to draw up measures to tackle the country’s shortage of doctors, during which the association expressed no thoughts on the enrollment quota hike.
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