Home World NewsKorea Health minister warns trainee doctors will face punishment unless they return to work by Thursday

Health minister warns trainee doctors will face punishment unless they return to work by Thursday

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Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said Tuesday that trainee doctors would face legal punishment, including suspension of their licenses, unless they go back to work by the Thursday deadline, stepping up warnings against thousands of junior doctors who left hospitals to protest against a plan to boost medical students.

About 9,000 trainee doctors have left worksites for an eighth day in protest of the government’s plan to raise the medical school admission quota by 2,000 seats next year.

“We will continue to respond under the law and the principle for illegal collective action,” Cho told reporters. “We urge trainee doctors who have left their workplaces to return by Thursday. If they do, they will not be held accountable for previous actions.”

“Starting March, suspending licenses and initiating legal proceedings will be unavoidable for those who do not return,” Cho said.

Authorities will conduct an on-site inspection at 50 hospitals by the end of this week to probe into work stoppages by trainee doctors, Cho said.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told reporters that 8,939 trainee doctors, or 72.7 percent of the total, have walked off the job as of Monday night. The number of trainee doctors who submitted their resignation came to 9,909, Park said.

Since trainee doctors began the mass walkout, the number of new patients fell 24 percent at general hospitals, while the number of surgeries performed plunged 50 percent there.

The ministry, however, said hospitals are still capable of offering treatments for patients in a serious condition.

Concerns about a healthcare service crisis are deepening with cases of patient damage piling up, with an elderly woman dying of cardiac arrest without treatment.

South Korea has been pushing to increase the number of medical freshmen to address a shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas and essential medical fields, such as high-risk surgeries, pediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine.

Doctors, however, argue that the government should rather focus on protecting them from malpractice suits and improving compensation to induce more physicians to practice in such unpopular areas.

The government, meanwhile, plans to investigate a case from the central city of Daejeon, where an 80-something patient died upon arriving at a hospital after searching for an available emergency room for nearly an hour, amid the vacancy of trainee doctors. (Yonhap)

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