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Tension soars as medical professors mull partial strike

Yoon’s office to launch medical reform committee on Thursday despite doctors’ resistance

By Park Jun-hee

Published : April 23, 2024 - 15:21

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A notice at Seoul National University Hospital informs patients that pediatric nephrology professors will treat patients only until Aug. 31. (Kang Hee-Gyung) A notice at Seoul National University Hospital informs patients that pediatric nephrology professors will treat patients only until Aug. 31. (Kang Hee-Gyung)

Patients in life and limb care are again left to deal with the fallout of the protracted medical standoff as resignations by medical professors due to take effect from Thursday.

Concerns over the health care system are also growing as professors were considering reducing work hours and the number of surgeries in a show of protest.

Medical professors at eight hospitals affiliated with the Catholic University of Korea’s medical school said Tuesday afternoon that they will submit their resignations starting Thursday.

Pediatric nephrology professors at the Children’s Hospital of Seoul National University Hospital recently informed patients that they would only treat them until Aug. 31, according to reports citing health authorities. They added that they would help send patients to other physicians.

Pediatric nephrology specializes in the diagnosis and management of children weighing below 35 kilograms with chronic kidney-related disorders. Despite the high demand for such care, the country lacks such specialists due to low associated medical fees. Only a handful of hospitals offer pediatric dialysis services here, and Seoul National University Hospital is the only medical institution with a pediatric dialysis unit.

“Our desired resignation date is Aug. 31 due to reasons stated in the notice posted throughout the hospital. ... (We) are deeply sorry that we are not able to stand by your side,” reads the notice posted by professors Kang Hee-Gyung and Ahn Yo-han, the only pediatric nephrology professors at SNUH.

Expressing regret over such decisions, the presidential office on Tuesday urged the medical community to join the special presidential committee on medical reform set to launch Thursday as the continued stalemate shows no sign of letting up.

“Now is the time for the medical circle to respond (to the government) and take action, as the government has decided that it will not be bound by numbers (for the quota),” Jang Sang-yoon, senior presidential secretary for social policy, told reporters, citing last week’s announcement that would allow for flexibility in the enrollment quota for next year.

He added that the medical community had also rejected the government’s offer of one-on-one talks between the government and chiefs of five medical groups -- the Korean Medical Association, the Medical Professors Association of Korea, the emergency committee of medical professors, the Korean Intern Resident Association and the Korea Association of Medical Colleges -- after they demanded such talks.

Jang stressed that the medical community should not “turn a deaf ear to the voices of the people and patients” and repeatedly asked to review the expansion plan from the outset.

“The only way to serve the nation and save (the country’s health care system) for junior doctors and medical students engaging in collective action is to return (and end the walkout) as soon as possible,” Jang noted, expressing regret over the medical sector’s decision.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo made a similar plea during Tuesday’s government response meeting, asking doctors to engage in talks via the committee so that “constructive discussions can take place.”

Meanwhile, the emergency committee of medical professors at Seoul National University and SNUH held a general meeting later in the day to discuss suspending outpatient treatment and surgeries once a week.

The emergency committee of medical professors was also set to hold an online meeting at 7 p.m. to discuss the same matter, including when to begin implementing the new measures.