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Service disruptions grow as doctors' strike enters 2nd day

All News 09:19 August 27, 2020

SEOUL, Aug. 27 (Yonhap) -- Major hospitals in South Korea are facing some disruptions on Thursday as doctors have continued their nationwide strike for the second day in protest of the government's medical scheme.

Tens of thousands of practitioners have joined interns and resident doctors at general hospitals for the three-day collective action, raising their voice against the government's move to increase the number of medical students.

Their walkout has gone ahead despite a mandatory return-to-work order from the government, which has warned of possible jail terms as it would cause major difficulties when the country is faced with spiking novel coronavirus cases.

Medical workers stage a rally at Ajou University Medical Center in Suwon, south of Seoul, on Aug. 26, 2020, with their folded gowns piled up, as tens of thousands of doctors launched a full-scale strike nationwide in protest of the government's move to increase the number of medical students. (Yonhap)

The walkout is the second of its kind and organized by the Korean Medical Association (KMA), which has some 130,000 members. The exact number of doctors taking part in the strike is not known.

The walkout has forced major general hospitals in the greater Seoul area to reduce working hours, delay some scheduled surgeries and cancel appointments, routine checkups and tests.

Seoul National University Hospital said around 60 surgeries were performed, sharply down from a daily average of 120, while the number of surgeries decreased by around 30 percent at Seoul Asan Medical Center.

"Surgeries are mostly performed on patients in critical or emergency condition," said an official from Seoul Asan Medical Center who asked not to be named. "We will face more serious problems when this situation continues."

Almost all of the 500 trainee doctors out of some 1,800 doctors at Seoul Asan Medical Center have joined the walkout, the official said.

The general hospitals replaced night hours usually covered by interns and residents with professor-level doctors to prevent any disruptions at emergency rooms and rooms for critical patients.

Other medical staff, including nurses, have complained of their overloaded work and schedule, pleading that both the government and the medical circle find a breakthrough.

Service disruptions grow as doctors' strike enters 2nd day - 2

The walkout by practitioners at neighborhood clinics also caused some discomfort, but no major disruptions were reported due to the relatively low number of striking doctors.

The health ministry said that of 32,787 clinics in the country, 10.8 percent, or 3,549, were closed as of Wednesday noon. The figure is less than the 33 percent strike rate by practitioners tallied in the first walkout earlier this month.

A day earlier, the government ordered striking junior doctors in the Seoul area to return to work. Those who do not follow the government order without probable cause could have their licenses revoked and even face imprisonment of less than three years or a fine of less than 30 million won (US$25,000).

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.


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