The government reaffirmed Friday that it would sternly punish doctors participating in a strike next week, urging them to step back from “illegal action.”
“(Earlier this week, the Ministry of Health and Welfare) issued a work order to doctors to open their clinics on Monday,” Health and Welfare Minister Moon Hyung-pyo said in the press briefing. “Doctors and institutions must remember that those taking part in the illicit strike without justifiable reasons will be punished according to the law.”
The government’s warning came as the Korea Medical Association decided earlier this week to take a full one-day walkout on Monday in protest of the government’s new medical policies that will allow telemedicine and for-profit subsidiaries for hospitals. While emergency room and intensive care center workers will be excluded from the one-day strike, they will take part in the second full strike scheduled for six days starting March 24.
The ministry warned that medical institutions that violate its work order can face a business suspension of up to 15 days.
The KMA’s strike committee leader Roh Hwan-kyu warned that the association would consider extending the six-day full strike to 15 days in protest of the ministry’s suspension threat.
Health Ministry officials also met with prosecutors to discuss measures against the strike. The prosecution vowed to seek criminal charges and suspend licenses of doctors participating in the walkout.
While the majority of the 70,000 KMA members agreed to stage the strike, the actual participation rate remains uncertain. Some observers say that only neighborhood private doctors and medical residents will likely join the collective action.
Medical residents, who planned to only take part in the six-day strike over a scheduling issue, decided to also join the Monday walkout.
“More and more medical residents in Seoul and surrounding areas have expressed their will to participate. The strike will be expanded on Saturday when representatives of medical residents across the nation hold a meeting,” said Song Myung-jae, the emergency planning committee chief of the medical residents group.
In between the two full strikes, during the period from March 11-23, medical residents are expected to stage a “law-abiding protest” ― working only for eight hours a day. Doctors will limit their consultations to 15 minutes per patient during the same period.
Five medical institutions, including the Korean Nurses Association and the Korean Dental Association, supported the doctors’ walkout plan, saying they also opposed to the government’s new medical policies.
The Korean Hospital Association, a group of the nation’s largest hospitals, on the other hand, said it would not welcome the walkout, claiming that new medical plans would help hospitals financially.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org)