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Hospitals in scaled down mode as trainee doctors slow to return to work

All News 10:34 September 05, 2020

SEOUL, Sept. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's major hospitals are maintaining scaled down operations, as trainee doctors have yet to return to work despite an agreement reached to end their weekslong strike, medical sources said Saturday.

Large university hospitals have reduced treatments and surgeries and have restricted the number of patients they admit, as thousands of interns and resident doctors have taken part in the walkout since Aug. 21, insiders said,

The latest development comes as the Korean Medical Association reached an agreement on Friday with the ruling Democratic Party and the health ministry to end the strike in exchange for Seoul putting on hold its plans to increase the quota for medical students, set up new public medical schools and give medical insurance coverage to traditional Korean medical treatment.

A group of people moves chairs and pickets used in the doctors' strike at a general hospital in Seoul after the Korean Medical Association, the ruling Democratic Party and the health ministry agreed to end the strike on Sept. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

The ruling party and the ministry also pledged to approach all matters related to the medical reform plan from scratch and listen to input provided by doctors, who have strongly opposed the changes. Doctors, lawmakers and government policymakers said they will set up two special commissions to address matters that can improve the quality of the country's medical field.

Despite the agreement being reached, some doctors belonging to the Korean Intern and Resident Association (KIRA), who have been at the forefront of the strike, have criticized the way the KMA handled negotiations. KIRA members have complained that they have not been properly consulted on the talks, with the agreement not reflecting earlier demands that the government must first scrap its medical reform plan.

KIRA said that its members will independently decide on when they will return to work, which is making it hard to determine when hospitals will be fully staffed again.

In a statement, the association warned that collective action cannot be called off if its members are hurt in any way for taking part in the walkout.

"Unless the interns and residents return, hospitals have to operate at reduce capacity like we are doing now," an administrator at a university hospital in Seoul said. He said the hospitals are closely monitoring developments.

Related to objections raised by some doctors on the ending of the strike, other observers said that with the health ministry withdrawing its formal complaints leveled at some who did not follow return-to-work orders and making promises to engage in dialogue on matters related to the medical reform plan, it is likely that doctors will gradually return to work.

"There is a chance that the interns and resident doctors may take another approach in making their views known, instead of engaging in a strike," a source said.

Health and Welfare Minister Park Neunghoo (R) and Korean Medical Association chief Choi Dae-zip sign an agreement calling for an end to the doctors' strike in Seoul on Sept. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)


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