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South Korea PM asks doctors not to quit over planned medical student increase

In Europe
February 18, 2024

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s prime minister pleaded on Sunday with doctors not to take people’s lives hostage, a day before scores of trainee doctors are expected to quit to protest a plan to increase medical school admissions and the number of physicians.

Trainee doctors at the country’s five biggest hospitals, all in Seoul, have said they would tender their resignation on Monday, raising concerns about the impact on medical service as the system relies heavily on them for emergency and acute care.

The Korean Medical Association, which represents doctors, and medical students have also opposed the government plan and pledged to take action, although they have not yet specified what they intend to do.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said if doctors leave their jobs or take actions that cause a vacuum in healthcare, the damage will fall on the public.

“This is something that takes the lives and health of the people hostage and must not happen,” Han said in a statement, referring to the planned mass resignation of trainee doctors.

Doctors and medical students oppose the government plan, saying there are sufficient physicians and increasing the number of doctors would prompt unnecessary medical care and worsen the finances of the national health insurance plan.

They also say the plan will not address the overburdening of large teaching hospitals and a lack of incentives for doctors to practice in essential healthcare services such as paediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine.

However, the government says the country must start training new doctors immediately, with a projected shortfall of 15,000 in 2035.

The government plans to raise medical school admissions by 2,000 students for the 2025 academic year and to add 10,000 doctors by 2035. Currently, about 3,000 students enter medical schools each year.

The plan also aims to ensure there are enough doctors practising outside large cities and expand legal protection for the profession against malpractice suits and prosecution.

The health ministry said 715 trainee doctors have submitted their resignation as of Friday. It has issued a back-to-work order, warning that refusing to comply will result in punishment.

The mass resignation plan by trainee doctors at the five largest hospitals would involve about 2,700 doctors, about a fifth of the country’s medical interns and resident doctors.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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