S. Korea to suspend licence of defiant trainee doctors from next week

Seoul, March 21 (IANS) South Korea’s health ministry on Thursday said it would begin suspending the medical licences of trainee doctors who have defied a return-to-work order from next week, as the government pushed ahead with its plan to hike the number of medical students.

A month-long walkout by trainee doctors in protest of the hike in medical school enrollment appeared to slide into a territory of little compromise as the government allocated on Wednesday an additional 2,000 medical school admission seats to universities across the nation, Yonhap news agency reported.

The ministry sent prior notices of licence suspension to some 5,000 trainee doctors, and they are required to submit opinions on the punitive step by next Monday. After that, the ministry will be allowed to send formal notices of licence suspension.

“Starting next week, the government will take measures to suspend the licence under the principle regarding violation of the return-to-work order,” Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo was quoted as saying to reporters.

“We urge junior doctors to return to their training hospitals, not only for the sake of patients, but for your colleagues who are filling in for your vacancies, and for yourselves who have chosen the career of medicine,” Park said.

About 90 per cent of the 13,000 interns and resident doctors have remained off the job since February 20, forcing surgeries and other public health services to be cancelled or delayed at major hospitals.

Park also cautioned that interns who fail to register in the training management system of hospitals by the end of this month will not be eligible to become residents next year, the report said.

As junior doctors are also required to undergo additional training in the event of a gap exceeding one month, Park noted that the suspension of their licences would affect their careers.

The government has been pushing to sharply raise the number of medical students to brace for the country’s fast-ageing population, and a shortage of physicians in rural areas and essential areas, such as paediatrics and emergency departments.

Doctors, on the other hand, say the quota hikes will undermine the quality of medical education and result in higher medical costs for patients. They have called for measures to first address the underpaid specialists and improve legal protection against excessive medical malpractice lawsuits.



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