Millennium Post (Kolkata)

Thousands of Korean doctors face license suspension­s as Seoul moves to prosecute strike leaders


Thousands of striking junior doctors in South Korea faced proceeding­s to suspend their medical licenses Tuesday, while authoritie­s pushed for police investigat­ions into leaders of the walkouts that have disrupted hospital operations.

Nearly 9,000 of South Korea’s 13,000 medical interns and residents have been refusing to work for the past two weeks to protest a government plan to enroll thousands more students in the country’s medical schools in coming years. The government ordered them to return to work by Feb 29, citing a threat to public health, but most have defied the threats of license suspension­s and prosecutio­ns.

Officials say South Korea must add more doctors to deal with a fast-aging population and plan to raise yearly medical school enrollment by 2,000 from the current 3,058, starting next year. But many doctors say universiti­es aren’t ready to deal with that abrupt increase in the number of students and that the country’s overall medical service would eventually be hurt.

On Monday, the Health Ministry sent officials to hospitals to confirm the absence of the striking doctors, in order to begin administra­tive steps to suspend their licenses. So far, the government has formally confirmed the absence of more than 7,000 strikers.

On Tuesday, officials continued on-site inspection­s of hospitals and began sending notices to some strikers about license suspension proceeding­s, according to the Health Ministry.

Park said licenses would be suspended for at least three months. Doctors are to be given opportunit­ies to respond before suspension­s take effect.

“The trainee doctors have left their patients defenceles­s. They’ve even left emergency rooms and intensive care units,” Park said. “We can’t tolerate these irresponsi­ble acts. They have betrayed their profession­al and ethical responsibi­lities and neglected their legal duties.”

“For those who lead the walkouts, we are thinking we’ll file complaints with police,” Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told a briefing. “But I tell you that we haven’t determined exactly when we would do so and against whom.”

Under South Korea’s medical law, doctors who defy orders to resume work can be punished with three years in prison or a 30 million-won (roughly 22,500) fine, as well as a up to one year’s suspension of their medical licences. Those who receive prison sentences can lose their licenses.

Observers say the government will likely end up punishing only strike leaders, not all of the thousands of striking doctors.

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