The Korea Herald

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Govt. to set up reporting center to ensure trainee doctors’ safe return to hospitals

Government to review nursing group’s request to enact new nursing bill, according to second vice health minister

By Park Jun-hee

Published : March 8, 2024 - 18:01

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Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo speaks during a press briefing held in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap) Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo speaks during a press briefing held in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)

The South Korean government said Friday it would set up a reporting center within the Ministry of Health and Welfare dedicated to ensuring trainee doctors’ safe return to hospitals as their protest against the expansion plan entered its third week.

The center aims to prevent the direct and indirect harm that junior doctors who wish to return to their positions may suffer, as an list of returning doctors was posted online recently.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said during Friday’s press briefing that the center would operate as a hotline, adding that the specifics will swiftly be announced at a later time.

“The government will provide support measures (to trainee doctors who did not participate in the walkout) for those who fear group harassment, such as by helping them change their workplace if desired,” Park said.

Park added that the government would come up with additional measures so that teaching hospitals can protect returnees.

A total of 11,985 trainee doctors at 100 training hospitals, or 92.9 percent of the total, have either given up on their contracts or walked out of their jobs as of Thursday at 11 a.m., according to the Health Ministry. The ministry noted that it is “speeding up efforts” in taking administrative action against those who defied the government’s return-to-work orders.

Also, the government will adhere to and reflect the nurses’ group’s request to push for a new nursing bill, according to Park.

His remarks came shortly after the Korean Nursing Association urged the National Assembly and the government to enact the bill. They claim that the scope of nursing duties remains in a legal blind spot, as they are not defined by law.

Nurses have been filling the void left by trainee doctors since Feb. 27. They have also been permitted to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and administer medication to emergency patients in hospitals since Friday.

In addition, Park pleaded to medical professors to remain on their jobs as they call it quits over the planned hike, urging that the path for trainee doctors’ return will be shut off if professors leave their patients.

“(The government) asks that the professors, themselves, demonstrate that protecting (their) patients is the utmost duty of a doctor. Please join the government in appealing to (trainee doctors) so that they can safely return and fulfill their duties as doctors,” Park said.

Professors’ resignations come after 40 medical schools have collectively requested an increase in the annual student quota by 3,401 in a government survey, 1.7 times higher than the government’s planned increase of 2,000. They have also argued that schools asked for the expansion without heeding their opinions.

The details of collective action will likely take shape after Saturday, when the Medical Professors Association of Korea will hold a closed-door meeting over the issue, according to reports citing education and health authorities.