South Korean medical trainees may face legal action over protest

Peeved over policy: Doctors and medical workers taking part in a protest against a plan to admit more medical school students in front of the Presidential Office in Seoul, South Korea. — Reuters

SEOUL: The South Korean government warned thousands of striking doctors to return to work immediately or face legal action after their collective walkouts caused cancellations of surgeries and disrupted other hospital operations.

About 7,800 medical interns and residents in South Korea have walked off their jobs to protest the government’s push to recruit more medical students.

Officials say they want to increase the nationwide medical school admissions cap by 2,000 from next year to brace for South Korea’s rapidly aging population. But doctors’ groups have refuted the plan, saying universities aren’t ready to offer quality education to that many students.

“We hope the government will rethink its plan and formulate a policy that reflects the voices of trainee doctors,” the Korean Intern Residents Association said in a statement Tuesday.

The Health Ministry said yesterday that authorities have received 58 public complaints over the walkouts, mostly regarding indefinite delays of surgeries and cancellations of other medical treatments.

“A collective action holding the lives and safety of the people cannot be justified for whatever reason,” Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min told a news conference yesterday.

Lee said the government issued an official order for striking doctors to return to work. He said the government will sternly deal with the doctors’ walkouts in line with the country’s medical law.

South Korea’s medical law allows the government to issue such back-to-work orders to doctors and other medical personnel when there are grave concerns about public health.

If they refuse to abide by the order, they could face up to three years in prison or 30 million won (RM107,500) in fines, a punishment that would also lead to the revocation of their medical licences, according to the law. — AP

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