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Government files criminal charges against striking junior doctors

Police, justice officials vow crackdown on doctors defying back-to-work orders

Government said Friday there will be
Government said Friday there will be "zero tolerance" for doctors who do not back down from the strike. (Ministry of Health and Welfare)

The South Korean government reported striking junior doctors to police on Friday morning, citing their noncompliance with the back-to-work orders issued two days ago.

“On-site inspections conducted at 20 hospitals in Seoul area in the last two days revealed at least 358 junior doctors have failed to abide by the orders,” said Kim Gang-lip, the Vice Minister of Health and Welfare, explaining the decision to file complaint against 10 of them. There will be “corresponding disciplinary measures” for the rest, he added.

Two ministries of Health and Justice and the National Police Agency said in a news conference Friday that there will be “no tolerance” for the doctors who defy the state orders to return to work.

“In a national health crisis, such concerted actions of an extreme degree from doctors are unacceptable,” said the Vice Minister of Justice Koh Ki-young. He said the doctors can face up to three years in jail or a fine of 30 million won unless they back down from the strike, on top of possibly losing their medical licenses.

Song Min-hun, the central police agency’s deputy commissioner general, vowed to launch “immediate and thorough investigations” into the doctors on strike. District police agencies across the country will launch a “joint crackdown to hold the doctors accountable without exception,” he said.

After the government warned of a criminal complaint Thursday, some junior doctors as well as higher-grade doctors said they would resign from their hospitals.

According to a survey conducted Thursday afternoon, 76 percent of the 16,000 interns and residents nationwide said they intended to step down from their jobs. Clinical fellows at 79 hospitals said in a statement released same day they have handed in their notice to quit.

But authorities said their offers of resignation will not be accepted. “Mass resignations are considered a concerted refusal to work, and subject to the same penalties,” they said.

The Korean Medical Association, which represents some 130,000 physicians here, said in a press conference held Friday morning that the government move to press charges against doctors was “wrong.”

The doctors’ group added that it would review reporting Minister of Health Park Neung-hoo for suspected abuse of authority.

Junior doctors at hospitals have gone on a strike without an end date last Friday in a dispute with the government over new medical legislations. Strike participation rate among the doctors in training stood at 69 percent as of Friday.

For clinics, Friday marks the end of a three-day strike. Some 6.5 percent or 2,141 of 32,787 primary care offices have either closed or limited their service hours over the three days.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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