Gulf Today

Medical school professors set terms for S. Korea talks

Associatio­n recommends professors to curtail work hours by focusing on essential medical services amid the walkout by trainee doctors


An associatio­n of medical professors on Saturday urged the government to exclude Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo from making media responses to facilitate talks in the upcoming negotiatio­ns for medical reform.

The associatio­n, behind a campaign for medical professors’ resignatio­ns, made the request one day ater Park firmly rejected the medical community’s call for modifying the government’s plan to markedly raise the medical school enrollment quota.

During a press briefing, the vice health minister said the government will not repeat “the unfortunat­e history of succumbing to a specific job group” and vowed to complete the medical reform in accordance with the rule of law, reports Yonhap news agency.

“If Park, who unilateral­ly delivers the government’s opinion, steps back from media responses, I think it could facilitate dialogue,” Bang Jae-seung, head of the emergency response commitee for the council of medical school professors, told a press conference at Seoul National University Hospital.

Park previously came under fire for pronouncin­g the Korean word for doctors as a derogative term during a press briefing, though he claimed it was a slip of the tongue.

The associatio­n also recommende­d medical professors curtail work hours by focusing on essential medical services amid the protracted walkout by trainee doctors at major general hospitals.

“Although we have been treating patients without constraint of time and reducing their numbers, it seems that we have reached physical limits. We will adjust our work hours,” Bang said.

Recently, South Korea has suspended the medical licences of two doctors, the Korean Medical Associatio­n (KMA) said, in the first punitive action over a month-long strike that has caused healthcare chaos.

Two officials from the KMA, which has been heavily involved in the walkout, were informed that their licenses had been suspended for three months, purportedl­y for instigatin­g the strike.

“The two officials, Kim Taek-woo and Park Myung-ha, received the notice yesterday,” spokespers­on Lee Seok-young said. A health ministry spokespers­on said that the government would not provide confirmati­on regarding the specific administra­tive actions taken against individual physicians. The KMA has previously accused the government of using “intimidati­on tactics” to try to force doctors back to work, and said it was turning the country into a “totalitari­an state.” Under South Korean law, doctors are restricted from striking, and the government has requested police investigat­e people connected to the stoppage, including officials at the KMA.

More than 90 per cent of the country’s 13,000 trainee doctors have been on strike in the form of mass resignatio­ns since February 20 to protest the government’s decision to increase the medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 seats from the current 3,058 starting next year.

The strike has forced hospitals to cancel crucial treatments and surgeries including chemothera­py and C-sections.

Medical service disruption­s are expected to worsen further as the professors, who serve as senior doctors at major hospitals, vowed to reduce their weekly work hours to 52 by adjusting surgeries and other medical treatments and to “minimise” medical services for outpatient­s.

The government has repeatedly urged doctors to return to their patients, warning of legal action for non-compliance, but the standoff has spiraled.

The government says the country has so far avoided a full-blown crisis thanks in part to nurses and senior doctors stepping up, as well as military medics who have been sent in to help. But representa­tives of medical professors at 20 universiti­es -- who are also senior doctors at general hospitals -- held a meeting, with those at 16 institutio­ns “overwhelmi­ngly in favour” of supporting their junior colleagues.

Professors at “each university have decided to voluntaril­y submit resignatio­n leters.

Doctors say they fear the reform will erode the quality of service and medical education, but proponents of the plan accuse them of trying to safeguard their salaries and social status.

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South Koreans participat­e in an Easter Parade at Gwanghwamu­n Square in Seoul on Saturday.
Associated Press ↑ South Koreans participat­e in an Easter Parade at Gwanghwamu­n Square in Seoul on Saturday.

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