South Korea has warned striking doctors to return to their jobs or face harsh penalties

South Korea has warned striking doctors to return to their jobs or face harsh penalties
Doctors-in-training attend a meeting at the Korean Medical Association building in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, February 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

The South Korean government warned thousands of striking doctors on Wednesday to return to work immediately or face legal action, following strikes that caused the cancellation of many surgeries and affected the work of other hospitals.

some 7,800 resident and trainee doctors In South Korea they left their positions this week in In protest against the government's plans to hire more medical students.

The authorities say so They want to increase the maximum number of students by 2,000 places In the country's medical schools starting next year to manage the rapid aging of South Korea's population. But doctors' groups opposed the plan, saying universities were not prepared to provide quality education to large numbers of students. They also say the government's plan will increase the state's medical expenses.

Additional 2000 places are “Senseless character”The Korean Resident Trainees Association said in a statement on Tuesday. “We are confident that the government will reconsider its plan and put in place a measure that reflects the voices of doctors in training.”

Early career physicians often assist senior physicians with surgeries and inpatient care. Their strikes have complicated work in hospitals. The Ministry of Health said on Wednesday that the authorities had done so Received 58 complaints from citizens regarding the strike, most of them related to the indefinite delay of surgeries and the cancellation of other medical treatments..

Doctors march against the government's medical policy near the presidential office in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, February 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

“Collective action to paralyze people’s lives and safety cannot be justified for any reason,” Minister of Security and Home Affairs Lee Sang-min said at a press conference with other senior officials.

He told me that the government issued an official order for the striking doctors to return to work. He added that the government will deal with doctors' strikes forcefully in accordance with medical legislation and other regulations.

South Korea's medical law allows the government to issue return-to-work orders to doctors and other health workers when there are serious public health concerns. If they refuse to comply with the order, they face up to three years in prison or fines of 30 million won ($22,480), a penalty that could also lead to the withdrawal of their medical licenses, according to the law..

Justice Minister Park Sung-jae accused some doctors of trying to protect their “interests” and said that if they refused to be reinstated, authorities would press charges and arrest their leaders.

For their part, the trainee doctors said that the government's order to return to work is a form of intimidation and should be withdrawn immediately. Many senior doctors support their less experienced colleagues.

A patient is transferred to Pusan ​​National University Hospital in Busan, South Korea, February 21, 2024. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji

A recent study has indicated this The majority of South Koreans support the government's plan. Some critics have said that doctors, one of the highest-paid professions in South Korea, oppose a significant increase in university places because they are concerned about losing income.

By Tuesday night, About 8,820 doctors out of 13,000 trainee doctors have submitted their resignations to their hospitals.. Deputy Health Minister Park Min-soo told reporters that none of the resignations had been accepted, but about 7,810 doctors had been absent from their jobs.

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To manage the absence of trainee doctors, the government opened military hospitals to the public, extended the operating hours of public medical institutions, and kept emergency medical centers open 24 hours a day. However, experts said that if the strikes were prolonged or joined by senior doctors, it could cause serious complications in South Korea's public medical service.

South Korea has a total of 140,000 doctors. The Korean Medical Association said it plans to organize marches in support of trainee doctors, but has not decided whether to go on strike or not.

(With information from AP)

Aygen Marsh

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