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Govt., doctors differ widely on how to resolve medical reform stalemate amid prolonged walkout

By Yonhap

Published : April 16, 2024 - 19:17

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Medical staff move at a general hospital in the southeastern city of Daegu on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Medical staff move at a general hospital in the southeastern city of Daegu on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Despite ongoing efforts to find a breakthrough regarding the prolonged walkout by doctors, the government and doctors differ widely on how to discuss medical reform plans, as doctors have demanded one-on-one talks rather than discussions within a consultative body for public consensus.

More than 90 percent of South Korea's 13,000 trainee doctors have walked off the job in protest since Feb. 20 in protest of the government's push to increase the number of medical school seats by 2,000 starting next year from the current 3,058.

The government has proposed the establishment of a special commission on medical reform under the presidential office, which will involve experts, patients, consumer organizations and various other members of society.

Lee Jae-myung, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, on Monday also proposed the formation of a special entity with the government, the medical community and other groups to reach a compromise.

During a Cabinet meeting earlier in the day, President Yoon Suk Yeol said the government will continue to pursue medical reform, as well as the three major reforms in labor, education and pensions.

Yoon also vowed to cooperate more closely with the National Assembly.

Major doctors' associations have not yet issued any official stance regarding Yoon's remarks Tuesday, but most doctors viewed the proposal of having consultations under a new commission negatively.

"Discussing the issue within a social consultative group is nonsense," Lim Hyun-taek, the head-elect of the Korea Medical Association, said, stressing that any consultation should be made through a one-on-one dialogue between the government and the medical community.

Other groups for medical schools and medical professors claimed that some civic groups have taken the side of the government and that people without expertise in the issue should not be part of any dialogue.

The government has said it is open to talks, though it believes a hike of 2,000 is the minimum as the plan was based on scientific research and discussion with the medical community.

Doctors, in response, have said the government must revisit the quota hike plan from scratch, which is a prerequisite for starting talks.

Yoon met with the chief of a striking trainee doctors' group earlier this month, but no immediate breakthrough has been reported.

The government has stressed the need to increase the medical school admission quota to address a shortage of doctors.

Given South Korea's rapid population aging and other issues, the country is expected to fall short by 15,000 doctors by 2035, according to the health ministry.

But doctors have said the planned quota hike would compromise the quality of medical education and services and create a surplus of physicians, and the government must devise ways of better protecting them from malpractice suits and extending compensation to induce more physicians to practice in such "unpopular" areas. (Yonhap)