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(3rd LD) Doctors agree to return to work, trainees balking at joining

National 19:00 September 04, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with extension of deadline for application of state licensing exam and dropping of complaint against trainee doctors in paras 10-11)

SEOUL, Sept. 4 (Yonhap) -- Thousands of senior and junior doctors decided Friday to end a weekslong collective action after reaching a deal with health authorities and the ruling party to review a medical reform plan, but trainee doctors are still threatening to continue their walkout.

Doctors at general hospitals and other medical institutes have been protesting a slew of issues, including raising admission quotas at medical schools and establishing a new public medical school.

Under the agreement, the government will not push forward with the medical reform plan unilaterally, and will reflect doctors' voices in the scheme.

The pact was reached between ruling Democratic Party (DP), the health ministry and a group of representative doctors led by the Korean Medical Association (KMA), although some members of a group representing trainee doctors spoke out against it.

Korean Medical Association head Choi Dae-zip (L) and ruling Democratic Party policy committee chief Rep. Han Jeoung-ae hold up signed agreements outlining future talks to resolve the government's medical reform plan and end the strike by doctors, in Seoul on Sept. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

The objections by some doctors belong to the Korean Intern and Resident Association (KIRA) could lead to people not showing up for work, even though many may accept the agreement and resume their duties.

The five-point agreement includes reviewing all key issues from scratch once again when the novel coronavirus outbreak eases and putting the government plan to increase medical school admission quotas on hold.

The health authorities and doctors agreed to continue talks over a variety of issues ranging from the setup of a new public medical school, reviewing medical fees, national health insurance coverage for oriental medicine treatment and telemedicine services.

The pact outlines the creation of two special commissions made up of representatives of the KMA, health ministry and the DP to address matters that can improve the quality of the country's medical field.

Ruling party officials said that the special commission will take the lead in listening to doctors.

Later in the day, the health ministry dropped complaints against six trainee doctors. Last week, the ministry filed complaints with police against 10 doctors for allegedly rejecting its back-to-work order. It withdrew the action for four of them on Tuesday after they were found to have followed the order.

On Friday, the ministry also extended the deadline for the application for the state medical licensing exam by two days to Sunday. About 90 percent of test takers had withdrawn their applications in protest of the medical policies.

A trainee doctor at Seoul National University Hospital, who earlier held up signs to protest the government's medical reform plan, reenters the hospital after the KMA and parliament reached an agreement. (Yonhap)

Despite the agreement that calls for an end to collective action, some trainee doctors made clear they do not accept the pact.

Thousands of trainee doctors working at general hospitals began the strike on Aug. 21 to protest the government's medical reform scheme which calls for an expansion of admission quotas at medical schools by 4,000 over the next 10 years, starting in 2022.

The KMA, which represents some 130,000 doctors across the country, also has sided with trainee doctors and medical students, despite the government's back-to-work orders.

The two-week strike has disrupted medical services at general hospitals and other medical centers as the country has struggled to contain the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic here.

The country reported 198 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, including 189 local infections, raising the total caseload to 20,842, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The daily number fell to below 200 for the second consecutive day, but the number of critically ill patients grew to yet another fresh high.

Health and Welfare Minister Park Neunghoo walks past trainee doctors who oppose the agreement reached between the government, parliament and the Korean Medical Association to end the two-week-long strike, in Seoul, on Sept. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

khj@yna.co.kr
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