South Korea doctors face arrest in standoff with government

Health minister says ‘starting March, suspending licenses and initiating legal proceedings will be unavoidable for those who do not return’

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 29 February 2024 08:45 GMT
From the archives:

South Korea has warned junior doctors of legal consequences including having their licenses revoked if they did not return to work by Thursday.

On Tuesday, health minister Cho Kyoo-hong issued this threat amid the ongoing protests by approximately 9,000 junior doctors, who have been absent from their hospitals for eight days.

They are opposing the government’s proposal to increase the medical school entry quota by 2,000 seats next year.

“We will continue to respond under the law and the principle for illegal collective action,” Mr Cho told reporters. “We urge trainee doctors who have left their workplaces to return by Thursday. If they do, they will not be held accountable for previous actions.”

He stated that “starting March, suspending licenses and initiating legal proceedings will be unavoidable for those who do not return”.

South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios among major economies and recently the government proposed to add 2,000 slots to the current annual quota of 3,000 medical students.

The plan was immediately criticised by doctors, who took to the streets to protest with signs that read “end of healthcare.” The striking doctors argue this expansion won’t solve the actual shortages in certain specialities, where conditions and pay are poor, and could degrade medical service quality.

Park Min-soo, South Korea’s second vice health minister, also warned trainee doctors that the government could ban them from resigning by law.

“While trainee doctors argue their resignations are based on the constitutional right to choose jobs, certain regulations can be implemented to safeguard the common interest and maintain social order,” he said.

“We have concluded the legal review, confirming that the order comes in line with the current medical system,” he was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

Meanwhile, by the end of this week, officials plan to carry out inspections at 50 hospitals to investigate the work stoppages by trainee doctors.

The South Korean government has raised the public health and medical crisis in the country to the highest level of “severe”. After the trainee doctors walked away protesting the government’s plan, emergency rooms at major hospitals have been turning away patients leading to a major healthcare crisis in the country.

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