South Korea to adjust medical school quotas in bid to end walkout

  • World
  • Friday, 19 Apr 2024

FILE PHOTO: Doctors chant slogans during a rally to protest against government plans to increase medical school admissions in Seoul, South Korea, March 3, 2024. The banners read "Oppose increasing medical school admissions without talks with the medical community" (in blue) and "Medical education will be harmed in increasing medical school admissions" (in red). REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said on Friday the government will adjust its healthcare reform plans to let medical schools determine their own admissions next year in a bid to end a prolonged walkout by junior doctors.

The move comes after the ruling party's crushing election defeat last week and amid a stalemate with doctors over plans to boost medical school admissions by 2,000 from 3,000 starting in 2025, eventually adding 10,000 more physicians by 2035.

Han said he accepted a proposal made on Thursday by deans of state-funded medical schools to scale back the increase by up to half and to give universities flexibility in determining their quotas, as a potential way to reach a compromise.

Thirty-two medical schools will now be allowed to lower their previously designated quotas by up to 50% for next year, while the increases for 2026 and beyond will proceed as planned.

Han said the government had made a "bold decision" amid a lack of consensus in the medical community, mounting concerns over the walkout and the pressing need for universities to finalise their academic calendar for next year.

"By proactively accepting the deans' recommendations, we're hoping to create a chance to protect medical students, normalise education and resolve the dispute," he told a briefing.

President Yoon has been pushing to add more doctors as an integral element of his medical reforms, an idea that has strong public support amid a shortage of physicians outside the greater Seoul area and in essential medical disciplines including emergency care and paediatrics.

The protesting physicians have said that healthcare sector was not short of doctors, and the government's plans fall short of addressing pay and working conditions properly.

The standoff emerged as a key issue in last week's legislative elections, in which Yoon's ruling party failed to regain a majority in the opposition-controlled parliament.

Yoon initially had been emboldened by opinion polls showing South Koreans overwhelmingly supported the idea of adding more doctors, but some voters had started to blame him for refusing to show flexibility.

A Gallup Korea poll released on Friday showed that Yoon's approval ratings had slumped to 23%, down 11 percentage points from three weeks ago and the lowest since he took office in May, 2022.

Yoon's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the change in the medical reform plans, but when asked about the ratings said the government was making its utmost effort to reflect the people's wishes in state affairs.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Ed Davies)

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