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(LEAD) Trainee doctors launch strike in protest over medical workforce reform

All News 11:23 August 07, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; CHANGES photo)

SEOUL, Aug. 7 (Yonhap) -- Trainee doctors at hospitals on Friday launched a one-day strike in protest of the government's medical workforce reform plan, causing concerns about potential inconvenience for patients using general hospitals nationwide.

But there was no disruption in medical services, as major general hospitals in Seoul mobilized alternative health workers in advance.

The Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA), a group of interns and resident doctors, began the 24-hour walkout earlier in the day in opposition to the government's plan to raise admission quotas at medical schools.

Around 70 to 80 percent of the group's 16,000 members are known to be taking part in the strike.

The Korea Medical Association (KMA), which speaks for 130,000 doctors, also plans to stage a separate general strike next Friday.

Patients wait for medical tests at Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on Aug. 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

Doctors in training working at hospitals' essential fields linked to patients' lives, including intensive care units, surgery and emergency rooms, joined the strike.

As part of the country's medical workforce reform plan, the health ministry is planning to expand admission quotas at medical schools by 4,000 over the next 10 years, starting in 2022, and to open a new public medical school as it seeks to broaden the reach of health care services.

This will increase the number of students admitted annually to medical schools to 3,458 in the 2022-2031 period from the current 3,058, according to the plan.

Doctors have opposed what they called the government's "hasty and unilateral" decision.

Major general hospitals in Seoul mobilized clinical doctors, medical professors and other health workers to reduce possible disruptions.

Surgeries and tests that were not deemed urgent were also rescheduled in advance.

Hospitals dispatched more nurses to screening centers to conduct new coronavirus tests.

"Waiting time is not that long when compared with the normal amount of time," said a 72-year-old man who was waiting to see a doctor at Asan Medical Center in southern Seoul.

The government earlier called on trainee doctors to retract their planned strike, as it could disrupt the medical system amid the new coronavirus outbreak.

The health ministry and KIRA made last-ditch efforts Thursday to resolve the issue, but the talks fell through.

The government earlier warned it would take stern actions if the walkout caused harm to people's health and safety.

"There are grave concerns that (the strike) may cause some disruption in the medical areas directly tied to people's lives, such as emergency rooms and intensive care units," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a pan-government meeting.

The entrance of Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul bustles with visitors on Aug. 7, 2020, as trainee doctors launched a strike in protest of the government's medical workforce reform plan. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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