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Health minister vows to swiftly hold talks with medical community over doctors' walkout

By Yonhap

Published : March 25, 2024 - 09:57

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South Korean Welfare Minister Cho Kyoo-hong presides over a Health Ministry Emergency Measures Committee held at the government complex in Sejong, on Monday. (Yonhap) South Korean Welfare Minister Cho Kyoo-hong presides over a Health Ministry Emergency Measures Committee held at the government complex in Sejong, on Monday. (Yonhap)

Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said Monday relevant ministries have swiftly begun work to hold talks with the medical community, a day after President Yoon Suk Yeol called for a "flexible" measure over the government's move to suspend licenses of defiant trainee doctors.

Prospects of talks between the government and the medical community over a prolonged walkout by junior doctors were raised as Yoon instructed officials to seek dialogue with doctors, with the walkout disrupting medical services at major hospitals for nearly five weeks.

"Related ministries have immediately launched working-level preparations to hold talks with the medical community," Cho told a government response meeting. "We will arrange a meeting between the government and the medical community as soon as possible."

More than 90 percent of the country's 13,000 trainee doctors have been on strike in the form of mass resignations since Feb. 20 to protest the government's decision to increase the medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 seats.

The health ministry had warned it would begin suspending licenses of trainee doctors who defied the government's order to return to work from this week.

However, Yoon's instruction came shortly after ruling People Power Party chief Han Dong-hoon met with representatives of the Medical Professors Association of Korea on Sunday.

Still, it is unclear whether potential talks with the medical community could produce tangible results as the government allocated the additional 2,000 admission seats to universities last week, in an indication that the government would not back down from the plan.

Cho welcomed the association's willingness to hold "constructive" talks with the government, but stressed completing the medical reform based on an increase of the medical school enrollment quota.

"We will discuss flexible measures with the party, regarding the administrative measure for junior doctors departing from workplaces, to minimize the impact of the medical vacuum," Cho said.

In support of the junior doctors' walkout, medical professors started tendering their resignations Monday, although they pledged to remain at work.

Also on Monday, the association of medical professors called for the government to scrap the plan to increase the number of medical students.

"Unless the government scraps the plan to increase the number of medical school freshmen and withdraws the allocation of seats, the ongoing crisis cannot be settled," the association said.

The association said medical professors will also go ahead with their plan to reduce their weekly work hours to 52 hours by adjusting surgeries and other medical treatments. (Yonhap)