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(LEAD) Doctors' strike enters last day despite widened return-to-work order

National 11:36 August 28, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES with more info throughout; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) -- Doctors entered the last day of their three-day nationwide strike Friday in protest of the government's medical reform scheme despite a widened return-to-work order.

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

Earlier in the day, the government ordered not only trainee doctors in the wider Seoul area but all across the country to return to their work, warning of possible prison terms as it would cause major difficulties when the country is faced with spiking novel coronavirus cases.

This photo, taken Aug. 27, 2020, shows Severance Hospital, a major general hospital in Seoul. (Yonhap)

The strike is the second of its kind and organized by the Korean Medical Association (KMA), which has some 130,000 members.

The widened order came after the government earlier ordered striking junior doctors at 95 trainee hospitals in the Seoul area to return to work.

The government said it has filed a complaint with police against 10 trainee doctors working at emergency rooms in the metropolitan area for not following the order.

However, the Korean Intern and Resident Association (KIRA) representing the trainee doctors, as well as fellow doctors, at major general hospitals have said they will continue their indefinite walkout as planned.

The KIRA has made clear on numerous occasions that its members will not return to work unless the government reconsiders its plans, and a number of trainee doctors have submitted letters of resignation.

The government said the number of trainee doctors that have walked out stood at 6,070, or 68.8 percent, of the 8,825 interns and residents in the country as of late Thursday,

Among fellow doctors, 28.1 percent, or 549, of 1,954 physicians did not report to work during the day, it said.

Meanwhile, out of the 32,787 clinics in the country, 8.9 percent, or 2,926, were closed, it said. The figure is less than the 33 percent participation rate by practitioners tallied in the first walkout earlier this month and down by around 600 from the previous day.

Concerns are looming over service disruptions at major general hospitals as trainee doctors have vowed to continue their collective actions indefinitely.

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.

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

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.

. 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.

Kim Hyun-sook (L), head of the health ministry's medical resources policy department, enters the Seoul Metropolitan Agency on Aug. 28, 2020, to submit a complaint against trainee doctors who were refusing to return to work. Tens of thousands of doctors went on a three-day strike nationwide on Aug. 26 in protest of the government's medical workforce reform. The walkout, the second of its kind, was organized by the association, which has some 130,000 members. (Yonhap)

khj@yna.co.kr
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