Emergency rooms at major hospitals show growing signs of strain as doctors' walkout continues in S. Korea

Photo: Yonhap

Emergency departments at major general hospitals have showed increasing signs of strain, a senior official said Tuesday, as a mass walkout by junior doctors in protest of the government's plan to hike medical school admissions entered its seventh week, Yonhap reports. 

The number of major emergency rooms that are partially limiting their treatment of critically ill patients rose to 14 in the final week of March, compared with 10 in the first week of the month, Deputy Health Minister Jun Byung-wang told reporters.

That means that the number of major emergency departments that are unable to treat at least one of 27 critical health problems, including heart attacks and brain hemorrhages, has increased. There are 44 major emergency departments in South Korea.

"There are signs that the prolonged collective action has somewhat impacted the capabilities of the medical system," Jun said.

About 12,000 trainee doctors have been on strike in the form of mass resignations since Feb. 20, with medical professors having submitted resignations in support of the walkout.

Medical professors, who are senior doctors at major hospitals, also began cutting their working hours Monday to cope with growing fatigue caused by the protracted walkout by junior doctors.

Jun said that health authorities plan to deploy all available personnel, including military and retired doctors, to sustain the health care system.

The deputy minister also noted the government remains open to talks with doctors if they come up with a unified and reasonable solution to resolve the impasse over the reform to hike the number of medical students by 2,000 per year.

The statement followed remarks a day earlier by President Yoon Suk Yeol that doctors need to come up with a "unified proposal" on the appropriate increase in medical school admissions.

However, Yoon said a hike of 2,000 medical students is the minimum, vowing not to back down from the number.

"The government is willing to engage in discussions with an open mind if the medical community proposes unified and more rational measures based on scientific evidence and logic while discontinuing the collective action," Jun told reporters.

"We hope doctors deliver their opinion in a rational matter while protecting their patients."

Yoon's office said later Tuesday the president is open to a meeting with trainee doctors.

"There are many organizations in the medical community, but President Yoon Suk Yeol would like to meet with trainee doctors, who are directly involved in the collective action, and hear what they have to say," Yoon's office said in a message sent to media. "The presidential office is always open to people."

Earlier in the day, a group representing medical professors called on the president and a representative of trainee doctors to sit down for talks "without preconditions."

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