South Korean doctors launch nationwide strike

Medical students protest in front of Chosun University Hospital in Gwangju, South Korea

SEOUL – Doctors launched a one-day strike across South Korea on Friday in protest of the government’s medical reform plan, with some disruptions expected to be inevitable, Yonhap news agency reported.

The walkout is part of the Korea Medical Association (KMA)’s strong opposition to the government’s plan to raise admission quotas at medical schools.

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Among the participants of the walkout are practitioners at small clinics and some trainee doctors, such as interns and residents, at general hospitals, the KMA said.

Still, doctors who work in essential fields, such as intensive care units, surgery and emergency rooms, continue to be on normal duty.

Health authorities said they expected no major disruptions, as hospitals mobilised alternative health workers, and doctors in vital departments have not participated in the walkout.

It marks the KMA’s third major walkout over the last two decades, after those in 2000 and 2014. Last week, trainee doctors at generals hospitals launched a separate one-day walkout.

South Korea plans to increase the number of doctors in the country, citing lack of medical infrastructure in rural areas, as well as the new coronavirus pandemic, which is not likely to end soon.

Under 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 2022, and open a new public medical school as well.

The group says that increasing the number of new doctors will only lead to more competition among doctors and will not help ease the disparity in medical infrastructure among regions.

Doctors also protest against the plan to include traditional oriental medicine in the nation’s public health insurance system, as they consider the field to be less scientific and vital.

On Wednesday, the health ministry said it is open to talks with the KMA, but it added it cannot further delay the scheme. Local doctors rejected the offer, saying the protest will be held as planned.

As of late Thursday, 8,365, or 24.7 percent, of 33,836 clinics across the nation, reported they will close their doors Friday, according to the health ministry.

The exact number of clinics closed Friday has not been reported yet.

The health ministry earlier ordered local governments to give mandatory orders to clinics to reopen their service when the ratio of closed clinics in their region hovers above 30 per cent.

— BERNAMA