South Korean doctors strike in protest of plans to add more physicians

Image supply, Getty Images

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Doctors staged rallies in Seoul final week protesting in opposition to the federal government’s plan to bump up numbers

South Korea’s authorities has ordered more than 1,000 junior doctors to return to work after many staged walk-outs in protest of plans to improve the quantity of doctors in the system.

More than 6,000 interns and residents had resigned on Monday, mentioned officers.

South Korea has one of the bottom doctor-per-patient ratios amongst OECD nations so the federal government needs to add more medical faculty placements.

But doctors oppose the prospect of better competitors, observers say.

South Korea has a extremely privatised healthcare system the place most procedures are tied to insurance coverage funds, and more than 90% of hospitals are non-public.

Its doctors are among the many best-paid in the world, with 2022 OECD information displaying the common specialist at a public hospital receives almost $200,000 (£159,000) a yr; a wage far exceeding the nationwide common pay.

But there are at the moment solely 2.5 doctors per 1,000 individuals – the second lowest fee in the OECD group of nations after Mexico.

“More doctors mean more competition and reduced income for them… that is why they are against the proposal to increase physician supply,” mentioned Prof Soonman Kwon, a public well being professional at Seoul National University.

Patients and well being officers expressed considerations on Tuesday as studies emerged of doctors declining to come into hospitals throughout the nation.

Junior doctors type a core contingent of workers in emergency wards, and native media reported that up to 37% of doctors could possibly be affected on the greatest hospitals in Seoul.

The well being ministry mentioned 1,630 doctors had not proven up to work on Monday, amid a wider group of 6,415 who had submitted resignation letters. Organisers had pledged an all-out strike from Tuesday.

“We are deeply disappointed in the situation where trainee doctors are refusing to work,” Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo had instructed reporters earlier this week.

He additionally warned that the federal government might resort to authorized means to get doctors again to work.

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Minister Park has condemned the strike motion by doctors

Under the nation’s Medical Services Act, authorities have the facility to revoke a health care provider’s working towards licence over an prolonged labour motion which threatens the well being care system. The nation has tried prosecutions earlier than in relation to different physician protests- which had been later dropped.

“We earnestly ask the doctors to withdraw their decision to resign en masse,” Mr Park mentioned.

The authorities has constantly condemned the doctors’ opposition. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo has mentioned: “This is something that takes the lives and health of the people hostage”.

The extent of the strike’s affect up to now is but unclear, though officers had warned there could possibly be delays to surgical procedures and gaps in care. Some hospitals have introduced switching to contingency plans. The authorities has additionally totally expanded telehealth providers.

The protests are related to occasions in 2020, when up to 80% of junior doctors joined strikes in opposition to the federal government’s recruitment plans.

South Korean coverage makers have tried for years to improve the quantity of skilled doctors, because the nation is coping with a rapidly-ageing inhabitants which can put further burden on the medical system. There’s a projected shortfall of 15,000 doctors by 2035.

The nation additionally has important gaps in care in distant areas, and in specialities akin to paediatrics and obstetrics – that are seen as much less profitable fields in contrast to dermatology.

To fight this, President Yoon Suk-yeol has proposed including 2,000 spots per yr to medical faculties – which at the moment take a cohort of simply over 3,000 college students yearly – a fee that has not modified since 2006.

It’s a coverage very fashionable with the general public – with native polls displaying 70-80% of voters help it.

However the plan has been strongly opposed by the medical career, with teams just like the Korean Medical Association arguing a rise could be a pressure on the cash accessible underneath the nationwide medical health insurance scheme.

The union has additionally argued that more doctors would not essentially deal with the shortages in particular fields.

It introduced the strike motion on Sunday after an emergency assembly with hospital representatives. While junior doctors are the primary to strike there are fears that more throughout the career will be part of too.

Doctors efficiently staved off the federal government’s earlier try to introduce more graduates in 2020. The authorities conceded on the time, partly due to the strain of the Covid pandemic, commentators say.

“It is not easy to predict who will win [this time],” mentioned Prof Kwon.

He famous that President Yoon “seems very determined” as a result of the coverage has offered a ratings-bump for an unpopular chief in any other case tarnished by some political scandals.

“But a private sector dominated health system is quite vulnerable to physician strikes, i.e. it can be really shut down if doctors join full-scale strikes.”

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