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(LEAD) Trainee doctors appear close to returning to work

All News 16:10 September 06, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; ADDS more info in paras 4-6)

SEOUL, Sept. 6 (Yonhap) -- Trainee doctors appeared close to a decision to return to work Sunday after the country's largest doctors' association agreed to end their strike after signing a deal with the government over a controversial medical reform plan.

A task force representing trainee doctors and medical students, including members of the Korean Intern and Resident Association (KIRA), held a meeting to decide whether they should join the Korean Medical Association's (KMA) move to end the walkout.

According to sources, representatives of trainee doctors and medical students were reportedly leaning toward returning to their duties from Monday, but objections from some members are delaying their announcement of a final decision.

As the task force struggles to reach an official conclusion, KIRA chief Park Ji-hyun announced separately that its association will halt collective action, even though the decision does not mean its fight is over.

"If two voices are coming out from the inside, it's a must-lose situation," Park said of the debates within her organization. "It's important to watch and keep (the government) in check to ensure that the agreement is implemented."

Despite Park's call, it is uncertain how many trainee doctors will actually return to work. Some of them have demanded that KIRA's future actions should be put to a vote.

Thousands of trainee doctors working at general hospitals began the strike on Aug. 21 to protest the government's medical reform scheme that calls for increasing the quota for medical students, establishing a new public medical school and giving medical insurance coverage to oriental medicine treatment.

The KMA, which represents some 130,000 doctors across the country, joined the collective action but agreed to return to work after the government backed down and promised to put the medical reform plans on hold.

Doors of the Korean Medical Association office in Seoul are closed on Sept. 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

However, KIRA, which has been at the forefront of the walkout, and medical students balked at the KMA's deal with the government, complaining that they were not properly consulted on the talks, while demanding KMA chief Choi Dae-zip provide an explanation on how the pact was reached.

The government and hospitals have been urging doctors to halt the strike as their collection action disrupted medical services at hospitals and other medical centers amid the COVID-19 pandemic here.


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