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(2nd LD) Gov't calls for doctors to pull back nationwide strike

All News 19:22 August 13, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES figures in 3rd to last para)

SEJONG, Aug. 13 (Yonhap) -- The government on Thursday urged doctors to cancel their nationwide strike slated for this week, warning that it will take stern actions if the walkout leads to any harm and disruptions to patients.

The Korea Medical Association (KMA), which represents 130,000 doctors, is set to stage a general strike Friday, voicing opposition to the government's plan to foster more physicians.

"We urge doctors to refrain from taking extreme measures by sacrificing the patients," Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a statement.

"The issue surrounding the medical policy should be discussed with the government. Patients have nothing to do with it," Park said, warning that the country will take legal actions if the strike threatens patients' health and safety.

South Korea currently plans to increase the number of doctors in the country, citing lack of medical infrastructure in rural areas, as well as the new coronavirus pandemic, which is not likely to end soon.

Trainee doctors affiliated with the Korean Intern Resident Association gather at a plaza in front of Daejeon Station, central South Korea, on Aug. 7, 2020, as medical residents went on strike nationwide earlier in the day to call for the government to scrap its plan to expand the number of students at medical schools. (Yonhap)

Under 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 2022, and open a new public medical school as well.

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

The group says that increasing the number of new doctors will only lead to more competition among doctors and will not help ease the disparity in medical infrastructure among regions.

"We are not only increasing the number of doctors, but also plan to deploy them in areas and fields they are needed. We will improve the quality of their education as well," Park said.

Doctors also protest against the plan to include traditional oriental medicine in the nation's public health insurance system, as they consider the field to be less scientific and vital.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo speaks during a press meeting held in Sejong, 120 kilometers south of Seoul, on Aug. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

On Wednesday, the health ministry said it is open to talks with the KMA, but it added it cannot further delay the scheme. Local doctors rejected the request, saying the protest will be held as planned.

Park said it is still not too late for the doctors to come to the negotiation table.

Doctors working at vital departments, including intensive care units, will continue to be on normal duty on Friday despite the strike. Last week, trainee doctors at hospitals also launched a one-day walkout.

As of Thursday, 8,365, or 24.7 percent of 33,836 clinics across the nation, reported they will close their doors on Friday, according to the health ministry.

"It will take some time to estimate how many hospitals will join the strike, as some of them may also be closing for the vacation season," a ministry official said.

South Korea's medical law stipulates that the minister, or related regional governors, can issue an order for hospitals to open if "a serious hazard occurs or is likely to occur to public health."

colin@yna.co.kr
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