Tens of thousands of doctors are set to launch a general strike next Monday in protest of government policies that would introduce telemedicine and for-profit operations but would not raise medical charges.
The Korean Medical Association, which represents more than two-thirds of the nation’s medical doctors, said on Saturday its members overwhelmingly approved the first industrial action in 14 years.
Nearly 70 percent of its 70,000 members participated in the eight-day vote that ended Feb. 28. The strike plan passed with 77 percent in favor and 23 percent against.
“I feel heavy-hearted now that the high voting rate has reaffirmed how desperately the members long for change,” the KMA president Roh Hwan-kyu said at a press conference Saturday.
|Roh Hwan-kyu, president of the Korean Medical Association, addresses a news conference on Saturday. (Yonhap)|
Detailed action plans will be finalized by an emergency planning committee to be formed soon, he added.
In response to the vote, the Ministry of Health and Welfare stressed that it would not accept any of the KMA’s requests if its members went on strike.
“The collective closure is an illegal act that takes public health and lives hostage. The ministry will sternly respond in accordance with law and principles,” it said.
The ministry added that it can order them to return to work according to medical law.
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won also criticized the doctors’ move.
“Releasing the mutual agreement with the ministry and then denying the negotiation results, the KMA will not get any public consent for its strike decision,” Chung said Sunday.
Doctors threatened in January to go on strike if the government pushes ahead with its health care reforms focusing on allowing telemedicine service and for-profit subsidiaries.
These were part of the new medical plans the government announced late last year, aimed at providing more convenience for patients and luring investment to hospitals.
Currently, Korean hospitals are operated by non-profit foundations and regulated strictly by the government.
Doctors, however, are concerned that the policies will only lower the quality of medical services while accelerating the privatization of the medical sector.
The two sides formed a consultative body and held rounds of negotiations over contentious medical issues for a month. They reached an agreement late last month to submit the telemedicine bill to the National Assembly with some differences remaining over a pilot project to test the efficacy of telemedicine safety.
Some association members including Roh, however, objected to the agreement, saying it never included details of how the government would deal with the KMA’s requests, signaling discord between association members and doctors’ representatives of the consultative body.
“If members were satisfied with the negotiation results, they wouldn’t have approved of the strike,” Roh said.
Whether doctors will take part in the walkout is uncertain. The Korean Hospital Association, a group of hospital businesses, said in January that it would not welcome the strike, saying that the new medical policies were part of measures to alleviate hospitals’ financial difficulties.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org