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(2nd LD) Gov't, striking doctors still sparring over reform plan

All News 23:30 September 01, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES paras 4 with latest figures; ADDS more details in paras 7-8, last 4 paras)

SEOUL, Sept. 1 (Yonhap) -- The government urged striking doctors on Tuesday to end their walkout amid the resurgence of coronavirus outbreaks in the country as a plan to increase admission quotas has been unconditionally put on hold.

Earlier this week, a Korean Intern and Resident Association (KIRA) task force voted in favor of an indefinite walkout of its members. Thousands of trainee doctors working at general hospitals began the strike on Aug. 21 to protest the government's medical reform scheme.

"The government has stopped all moves to increase quotas for medical schools and has stressed it is open to discussing the matter after the COVID-19 crisis has been overcome," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, said in a daily briefing.

Trainee doctors at Pusan National University Hospital hold up signs denouncing the government's medical reform plan, in downtown Busan, 453 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Sept. 1, 2020. (Yonhap)

Data showed that 77.8 percent of trainee doctors took part in the strike Tuesday, while the percentage of fellow doctors reached 30 percent. The figures are lower than Monday's 83.9 percent and 32.6 percent, respectively.

Besides interns and resident trainee doctors, staff at general hospitals have openly supported the strike and warned they too could take collective action in the face of back-to-work orders for medical staff on strike.

Son claimed that doctors should reconsider the ongoing strike in the face of government concessions.

Last week, the welfare ministry filed complaints with police against 10 doctors for allegedly rejecting the government's back-to-work order.

On Tuesday, the ministry withdrew complaints for four of them after they were found to have followed the order.

A Seoul National University Hospital trainee doctor holds up signs critical of the government's medical reform plan, in front of the National Assembly in Seoul on Sept. 1, 2020. (Yonhap)

As part of the country's medical workforce reform plan, the government is planning to expand admission quotas at medical schools by 4,000 over the next 10 years, starting in 2022.

Yoon said KIRA needs to make clear its stance on proposals to open new public medical schools that can broaden the reach of health care services and plans to include traditional Korean medicine in the nation's public health insurance system.

Health authorities said that creating a new public medical school requires the passage of a law, which can only be handled by the National Assembly and is not something that can be interfered with.

Trainee doctors and the Korean Medical Association (KMA) said the walkout will be maintained until the government scraps the reform plan outright. Interns, residents and fellow doctors also formed a joint emergency response committee with medical students to better make their views known.

The doctor groups have said they are willing to hold public discussions with the government on all outstanding matters if the government withdraws its reform plan.

Doctors have argued that the government's medical reform plan is not the answer to resolving challenges facing the medical sector, claiming more investment into rural hospitals and overhauling the country's medical insurance scheme must be carried out first.

They also said that while the strike is taking place, doctors have volunteered to work at COVID-19 screening centers and are helping to treat patients with the infectious illness.

In order to minimize disruptions of medical services, the government is reviewing sending military doctors to civilian hospitals.

Details have yet to be determined, but around 20 military doctors are expected to be sent to clinics designated for COVID-19 patients in Seoul and the adjacent city of Incheon starting as early as Thursday, according to the defense ministry.

The country reported 235 new coronavirus cases, including 222 local infections, raising the total caseload to 20,182, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The total caseload surpassed the 20,000 mark for the first time since the country reported its first case on Jan. 20.


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