Doctors and the government are likely to return to the negotiation table over new medical policies ahead of a nationwide strike planned later this month.
The Korean Medical Association, the country’s largest group of physicians, said Wednesday afternoon that they would accept the government’s proposal for talks in order to stop the inconvenience of patients.
“We welcome the government’s offer to talk and its refraining from a hardline stance,” the KMA said in a statement. The group, however, said they would go ahead with the planned protest on March 24, if the government shows no sincerity.
The statement came hours after Prime Minister Chung Hong-won urged doctors to withdraw their strike plans and engage in talks, stressing that the government would no longer tolerate their actions crippling the nation’s health service.
“The KMA should drop its plan to suspend operations of local clinics nationwide and start talks with the government,” Chung said in a statement.
“The government will discuss the best options for public health and the doctors’ demands (with the medical association) until March 20, and let the people know the details,” Chung added.
Thousands of doctors across the country closed their clinics on Monday to protest the state’s push to introduce telemedicine and for-profit subsidiaries for hospitals. They are also planning to launch a six-day strike later this month.
Chung expressed grave concerns over the planned action.
“It is very regretful that the doctors’ association pushed to launch an illegal strike, causing public concern and inconvenience,” he said.
The prime minister also added that it is difficult to understand doctors taking action despite an agreement between the government and the doctors’ group. Both sides said early last month that they had narrowed differences over the new medical policies after rounds of negotiation.
The second round of collective action is expected to cause greater damage as medical residents at major hospitals in Seoul decided to join the move. Seoul National University Hospital and ASAN Medical Center, two of the five major hospitals in Seoul, voted Tuesday to participate in the six-day medical strike. Emergency room and intensive care center staff will also be joining the strike, the KMA said.
The doctors claim that telemedicine, which allows doctors to use communications technology to help treat patients in remote areas, will only benefit large hospitals and damage the businesses of neighborhood doctors. They also argued that government plans to allow hospitals to own for-profit subsidiaries will accelerate the privatization of the medical sector.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org)