As announced, doctors are expected to go on a one-day strike on March 10 before launching a work-to-rule struggle from March 11 to 23 and a six-day strike immediately thereafter. Yet their collective action is unlikely to cause chaos as hospitals will not participate in it.
Earlier this week, the Korean Medical Association announced the strike plan after physicians across the nation overwhelmingly voted last week in favor of strike action to protest the government’s plan to introduce telemedicine and allow hospitals to engage in for-profit businesses through subsidiaries.
The vote outcome dismayed the government as it reversed the agreement reached last month between the KMA representatives and officials of the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
The two sides then concurred to submit a bill on telemedicine to the National Assembly in March and shared the view that the present system of determining medical service fees needed improvement.
Yet doctors operating neighborhood clinics, especially young ones, were dissatisfied with the agreement as it would pave the way for the introduction of telemedicine, which they feared would further encourage patients to head to big hospitals.
Following the KMA’s announcement, however, the Korean Hospital Association said it would not participate in the planned strike as it lacked justification. It added it has accepted the government’s request to extend the office hours of hospitals if neighborhood clinics collectively refused to see patients on March 10.
The KHA also urged KMA leaders to resolve the dispute through dialogue as their strike plan would cause inconveniences to patients and involve sacrifices only for participating physicians.
The hospital association has made the right decision. Its prudent move is expected to take the steam out of the physicians’ strike plan.
Even among neighborhood clinics, many are expected to ignore the KMA’s call for a walkout as the government has defined the collective action as illegal, warning that those who join it would face a business suspension of up to 15 days.
The KMA leadership is advised to withdraw the unwarranted strike plan and respect the agreement reached between its representatives and the government. By breaching the agreement, they simply eroded the public’s trust in physicians.
The government, for its part, should address the difficulties facing neighborhood clinics. Its plan to allow hospitals to run for-profit affiliates may help them improve their balance sheets and attract investment in the medical sector. But they will not benefit neighborhood doctors. They can play a more active role if the government pushes to bolster the primary care system.