Thu. Apr 25th, 2024

South Korea has taken decisive action to address a looming healthcare crisis, compelling trainee doctors to resume their duties following a mass resignation protest against medical training reforms. Concerns over the nation’s low doctor-to-population ratio, particularly in the face of an aging demographic, have prompted the government’s push to bolster the medical workforce.

The contentious reforms, aiming to significantly increase medical school admissions, have ignited strong opposition from doctors who fear a compromise in service quality. Critics argue that the proposed changes may undercut their earnings and societal standing. Despite government warnings and legal threats, hundreds of trainee doctors submitted resignations, initially intending to cease work starting Tuesday.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo emphasized the issuance of treatment maintenance orders as a legal measure to prevent widespread work stoppages among medical practitioners. South Korean medical regulations prohibit mass strikes by doctors, classifying them as essential workers. Minister Park urged trainee doctors not to forsake patient care, affirming government oversight to ensure compliance and warning of potential arrests for strike instigators.

The reform agenda, slated to boost medical school admissions by 65 percent from 2025 onwards, enjoys significant public support, driven by concerns over prolonged hospital wait times. However, it faces staunch resistance from medical professionals. The Korean Medical Association decried government tactics as reminiscent of a “witch hunt” and warned of the potential for a socialist-style healthcare system.

Vice Minister Park underscored the imperative of reform in light of South Korea’s rapidly aging society, foreseeing overwhelming future demand for medical services if current quotas persist. With over 700 trainee doctors already resigning, the government remains resolute in its pursuit of healthcare reform. The Ministry of National Defense has pledged to open military hospital emergency wards to the public if the strike persists, and is exploring the deployment of military doctors to civilian facilities to mitigate staff shortages.

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