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HomeMoneySouth Korea doctors offer to resign amid spat with government

South Korea doctors offer to resign amid spat with government

SEOUL, South Korea — Trainee doctors in South Korea began resigning en masse Monday in protest of a government medical policy, causing reported delays in surgeries and other treatments at hospitals, though no major disruption in the country’s medical service has yet occurred.

Doctors’ groups and the government have been squabbling over a government plan to increase the number of medical school admissions by 2,000, starting from next year.

Health authorities say it’s urgent to have more doctors considering South Korea’s fast-aging population. They say the number of doctors in the country relative to the size of the population is among the lowest in the developed world.

But doctors’ groups say the government must use available resources to raise medical fees and resolve other problems first. Some doctors say the government plan could eventually result in doctors locked in competition, performing unnecessary medical treatments and posing a burden to the public health insurance plan.

On Monday, trainee doctors at the country’s five major hospitals began submitting letters of resignation before formally walking off their jobs the next day. Their association, the Korea Intern Resident Association, had determined to take such a collective action during an emergency meeting last week.

Seoul’s Asan Medical Center said that a number of interns and resident doctors there submitted resignation letters and that it was trying to reschedule planned surgeries and other medical treatments for some patients. Seoul’s Severance Hospital said some of its trainee doctors also handed in resignation letters and suggested it could rearrange surgery schedules as well.

South Korean media reported that hundreds of trainee doctors at other hospitals have already submitted their resignation letters. Media reports say some hospitals have canceled or put off planned cancer surgeries, child births and other procedures in which trainee doctors assist senior doctors during surgeries.

No major troubles in the country’s medical services were immediately reported Monday. The Health Ministry said it was trying to find how many of the total trainee doctors at the five hospitals — estimated at about 2,700 in local media — submitted their resignations. South Korea has about 140,000 professional doctors.

The Korea Medical Association, which represents doctors, said it plans to hold rallies in support of the trainee doctors but hasn’t determined whether to join their walkouts.

Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo expressed “deep worries and regrets” over the trainee doctors’ action. Park, citing a medical law, said the government ordered them to continue their jobs.

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the government will take steps to prevent the trainee doctors’ action from undermining the care of emergency patients. He said that more than 400 emergency medical treatment centers across South Korea will stay open around the clock. He said the government will deploy military doctors if the situation worsens.

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Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report.

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