Doctors launch new committee; decision on indefinite strike to be made on Saturday in S. Korea

South Korea
Photo credit: Yonhap

A main doctors' lobby group said Thursday it launched a new medical community-wide committee to navigate joint responses regarding its monthslong standoff with the government over the medical reform plan, and the new entity will hold an inaugural meeting later this week on a possible indefinite walkout, Yonhap reports. 

The special committee was established under the wing of the Korea Medical Association (KMA), which brought together representatives of medical professors, training doctors, regional medical groups, as well as medical school students, according to the officials.

"The new committee will be in charge of making all decisions, as the KMA will give all the authority to the committee and extend full support," a KMA official said.

The committee will hold its first meeting Saturday and decide on whether to launch an indefinite strike Thursday, just as the KMA has threatened in protest of the government's medical school admission quota increase.

A majority of junior doctors have walked off the job since late February against the quota increase, and the KMA held a one-day strike on Tuesday, which was joined by some community doctors and medical professors.

The launch of the new entity raised hope for progress in talks for solutions now that the medical community is expected to fine-tune opinions among them and take a unified stance.

In support of the junior doctors' move, the Seoul National University (SNU) hospitals suspended their operations indefinitely Monday, except for emergency rooms and services for critical patients, and other senior doctors were to decide whether to join their SNU colleagues, hospital officials said.

SNU medical professors said they will vote on whether to continue their strike through next week, with the result to be available as early as Friday.

"We had a general meeting today, and there were various opinions. We will make a decision on whether we will stop the strike and what other options there are for us," an official said.

The health ministry once again called on doctors to withdraw the plan and to come forward for dialogue.

"The KMA should listen to desperate calls by patients for withdrawing the strike decision," Kim Guk-il, a senior official of the ministry, said at a press briefing.

"The government is ready to have dialogue with the medical circle regardless of formats and agendas. I ask the doctors' group to come forward to address the matter reasonably," he added.

Meanwhile, an association for seriously ill patients said Thursday it sent a request to the health ministry to hold a public hearing on allowing doctors with medical licenses issued from foreign nations to practice medicine in South Korea.

"Hundreds of foreign medical license holders are currently staying here, and now is high time for the government to consider mobilizing them at an early date to fill the current medical service vacuum," the association said.

In May, the government revised a regulation of the Medical Act that stipulates those who have foreign medical licenses are able to practice medicine in South Korea upon approval by the health minister when the country is in the highest medical disaster alert mode of "serious."

Following the junior doctors' walkout, the government raised the national medical disaster alert to the highest level Feb. 23 and has activated an emergency response mode.

The health ministry said it does not have a plan to hold any public hearings on the matter and will review the possibility after closely monitoring the situation and various factors.

Despite strong opposition from doctors, the government late last month finalized an admissions quota hike of some 1,500 students for medical schools, marking the first such increase in 27 years.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court upheld and finalized the appellate court's decision to reject the injunction filed by trainee doctors and medical professors, calling for the suspension of the government's medical school admissions quota hike.

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