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PoliticsSouth Korea

South Korea: Striking trainee doctors face prosecution

February 29, 2024

The South Korean government has warned trainee doctors they could face legal punishment if they don't end their strike. Protests have been taking place over plans to boost medical school enrollments

Members of the Korea Medical Association stage a rally against the government's medical policy near the presidential office in Seoul
Thousands of junior doctors in South Korea have been refusing to see patients and attend surgeries since they walked off the jobImage: Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo/picture alliance

The government in South Korea made a last-ditch appeal to striking doctors on Thursday to end their mass walkout, or face having their medical licenses suspended and prosecution.

Thousands of resident and intern doctors have walked off the job for the past 10 days in protest over government plans to raise the number of students enrolling at medical school by 2,000 each year.

They argue that the government should first address pay and working conditions before attempting to raise the number of doctors.

Return to work ultimatum

"We've said that we won't hold them responsible for leaving their worksites if they return by today," Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told a briefing.

South Korean Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo
South Korean officials are warning the doctors before the government takes formal steps to penalize striking doctorsImage: YONHAPNEWS AGENCY/picture alliance

"Doctors are there to serve patients, and those patients are anxiously waiting for you. This isn't the way to protest against the government," said Park.

South Korea's Health Ministry said that as of Wednesday night, around 9,076 of the country's 13,000 medical interns and residents were confirmed to have walked off the job.

Senior Health Ministry official Kim Chung-hwan told a briefing that starting on March 4, doctors who missed the deadline to return to work would be notified of plans to suspend their licenses and that they would be given an opportunity to respond.

Government says emergency, critical care stable

The walkouts have strained South Korea's health system, leading to postponed surgeries and suspended medical treatments.

Health authorities say the handling of emergency cases and those needing critical care is largely stable. Still, in an effort to ease the burden, military medical facilities have been temporarily opened to the public.

kb/wd (Reuters, AP)