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(LEAD) Doctors launch nationwide strike, some service disruption reported

All News 16:08 August 14, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info throughout; CHANGES headline, lead, photos)

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- Doctors launched a one-day strike across South Korea on Friday in protest of the government's medical reform plan, with some difficulties reported at small clinics.

The walkout is part of the Korea Medical Association (KMA)'s strong opposition to the government's plan to raise admission quotas at medical schools.

Among the participants of the walkout are practitioners at small clinics and some trainee doctors, such as interns and residents, at general hospitals, the KMA said.

Still, doctors who work in essential fields, such as intensive care units, surgery and emergency rooms, continue to be on normal duty.

Health authorities said they expected no major disruptions, as hospitals mobilized alternative health workers, and doctors in vital departments have not participated in the walkout.

As of noon, 10,584 of 33,836, or 31.3 percent, clinics across the nation closed their doors, according to the health ministry.

A clinic in the southern port city of Busan is closed on Aug. 14, 2020 as doctors launched a one-day strike across in protest of the government's medical reform plan. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"We will make sure that there is no service setback by arranging alternative workforce in each department," said an official from Seoul St. Mary's Hospital, who asked not to be named.

It marks the KMA's third major walkout over the last two decades, after those in 2000 and 2014. Last week, trainee doctors at generals hospitals launched a separate one-day walkout.

South Korea 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.

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.

Members of the Korea Medical Association (KMA) gather in Yeoido, western Seoul, on Aug. 14, 2020, in protest of the government's medical reform plan. (Yonhap)

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.

An undisclosed number of KMA members gathered in Yeouido, western Seoul, urging the government to retract the plan.

"The government has rolled out a series of medical reform plans without any dialogue with doctors," said its hard-line chief, Choi Dae-zip. "A group of 130,000 doctors again urge the government to discard the plan."

The government expressed strong regret over the doctors' nationwide strike, urging them to return to dialogue.

"It will be difficult for doctors to gain the people's trust by staging a collective act that can possibly threaten patients' lives and health," said Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip in a press briefing.

The health ministry earlier ordered local governments to give mandatory orders to clinics to reopen their service when the ratio of closed clinics in their region hovers above 30 percent.

khj@yna.co.kr
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