South Korea gov’t to suspend licenses of 7K defiant trainee doctors

SEOUL: The health ministry said Monday it started taking procedures to suspend the licenses of around 7,000 trainee doctors who have defied the government's order to go back to work, warning that such punishment would be "irreversible." About 9,000 trainee doctors remained off their jobs at general hospitals for the 14th consecutive day Monday, protesting the plan to add 2,000 more medical school seats starting next year, from the current 3,058. "This measure is irreversible," Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said, adding that the punitive measure will leave a permanent record affecting their future career path. He said "the government intends to make on-site investigations to find out violations, which will be followed with responses under the law and principles.' "The responses to key officials responsible for the collective action leading to chaos in the medical sector will be executed sternly and promptly,' he added. Earlier in the day, Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said that authorities plan to start punitive steps against "illegal" labor action by trainee doctors. "The government remains firm in its principle against illegal collective action by trainee doctors," Cho told a government response meeting. The medical interns and residents, who play a vital role in assisting with surgeries and emergency services at major general hospitals, have maintained their collective labor action, leading to mass cancellations and delays in surgeries and emergency medical treatment. The government gave protesting doctors until last Thursday to return to work, warning them that noncompliance could result in punitive action, including criminal punishment or revocation of their doctors' licenses. So far, the warning has done little to bring them back to work. As of last Thursday, 8,945 trainee doctors had left their worksites and 565 had returned to work, Park said. Doctors are subject to suspension of their medical licenses for up to a year, or could face three years in prison or a fine of 30 million won (U S$ 22,455), for not complying with such government orders. The government is pushing to increase the physician numbers as a way to resolve the shortage of doctors in rural areas and essential medical fields, such as pediatrics and neurosurgery, and also given the super-aging population. Doctors say the quota hikes will undermine the quality of medical education and other services and result in higher medical costs for patients. They have called for measures to first address the under-paid specialists and improve the legal protection against excessive medical malpractice lawsuits. Source: Philippines News Agency