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More doctors strike in South Korea

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Doctors at medical institutions across South Korea held a one-day strike on Tuesday, expanding a months-long protest against government health care policies that began with residents and interns at major hospitals. stop working In February.

The doctors participating in the one-day strike belong to the Korean Medical Association, the country’s largest physician group, which has about 140,000 members. It was not immediately clear how many participated, but according to the association, its members recently voted three to one in favor of collective action.

South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol called the latest strike “extremely disappointing and regrettable” in a televised cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, a day after hundreds of medical professors at Seoul National University Hospital and other major medical institutions began an indefinite work stoppage.

“My liver is not good and I came here for an ultrasound,” Yang Myoung-joo, an 84-year-old patient at Seoul National University Hospital, said on Tuesday. She said her appointment had been canceled but a new date had not yet been announced. “Doctors are related to people’s lives. Is a strike the right thing to do?”

The dispute began in January when Yoon Young-chul’s government announced new health care policies that included a plan to significantly expand medical school enrollment. Doctors say the plan was drafted without their input and fails to address the health care system’s problems. But the government says South Korea desperately needs more doctors because it has fewer per capita than most developed countries.

Neither side has given much ground. In May, the government set the medical school quota for the 2025 academic year at 4,570 students, about 1,500 more than the 2,000 it had initially proposed, but still a significant increase. The announcement appears to have been the spark for recent industrial action.

“The government has still not acknowledged its wrongdoings, but is continuing to push through wrong policies and condemning the medical community,” Lim Hyun-taek, president of the Korean Medical Association, said during a meeting with the association’s leaders last week. Dr. Lim said Yoon Young-chul’s administration had long ignored the tough working hours and low pay endured by pediatricians and doctors in other important fields.

While the health system has been strained since February, it has not collapsed. To fill gaps in care, the government has deployed military doctors and asked nurses to take on some tasks usually performed by doctors. The government said this week it was operating hundreds of emergency rooms across the country and was developing contingency plans in case the dispute drags on.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Deok-soo said in a recent statement that the doctors’ strike “has left a huge scar on society and destroyed the trust that has been built up over decades between doctors and patients.”

Many members of the public have also been critical of the strike, with some accusing doctors of trying to protect their elite status by keeping numbers low. The backlash has spread to the medical industry itself, with unionized hospital workers holding a rally in Seoul last week urging doctors to cancel a one-day strike on Tuesday. “Postponing treatment and surgery is a pain for patients, and even greater pain for hospital staff who are subjected to endless inquiries and complaints,” said Dr. Union Statement explain.

Kang Hee-gyung, a pediatrician at Seoul National University Hospital who leads the hospital’s committee of suspended medical professors, said at a recent news conference that the action was a last resort and stressed that patients who need immediate care will receive it. “We apologize to patients in intensive care and rare diseases,” he said.

The government has tried to persuade interns and residents who struck in February to return to work, backing off earlier threats to revoke their licenses and promising immunity from punishment for those who do. But only 7.5% of the roughly 14,000 interns and residents at 211 teaching hospitals showed up for work last week, according to health ministry data.

Protest leaders say the protests will only end if the government abandons plans to expand the medical school, but a health ministry spokesman said the 2025 intake was not negotiable. Patients are growing increasingly annoyed and losing hope of a quick resolution.

“It could take months,” Ms. Yang said. “As a patient, there’s nothing I can do.”

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