Health ministry to review medical law system to prevent controversy over nursing act

The South Korean government will start the process to review the country's unitary medial law system that covers the entire health professional, including doctors and nurses, in follow-up measures against a controversial nursing act that had rocked the local medical community, a vice health minister said Tuesday.

The nursing act, which passed the parliament led by the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) in April, was designed to clarify the roles and responsibilities of nurses and nursing assistants separately from other experts, such as medical doctors, dentists and Korean medicine doctors, described in the Medical Service Act. The bill also includes phrases that allow nurses to open nursing homes and care centers in local communities.

The law had divided the medical circles for months, with nurses, doctors and other health care workers, including nursing assistants and radiological technologists, staging multiple rallies and work-to-rule strikes.

Nurses claimed that the new law is aimed at providing a legal basis to improve their working conditions, not at opening the door for them to practice medicine. Doctors, on the other hand, insisted that the legislation would cause confusion in the medical sector because it could lead to nurses opening their own clinics and practicing medicine without doctors' supervision.

As the controversy heated up, President Yoon Suk Yeol rejected the bill, which subsequently failed to re-pass the National Assembly.

"I think there were three issues in the last nursing law controversy," said Park Min-soo, second vice minister at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, in a press conference with foreign media, referring to issues involving the legal system, elderly care and the working conditions of nurses.

"The first is the legal system, and Korea has a unitary medical law. It is a system that contains all the roles, functions and responsibilities of all positions in the Medical Service Act."

He said the ministry will set up a study group later this month to discuss whether the government should change the legal system, or whether the medical law should remain unitary or be plural, having separate laws for each profession.

The group is expected to wrap up the review by the end of this year, he added.

The vice minister said the government is also brainstorming ideas to reform the country's system to take care of the growing number of seniors and to improve the working conditions of nurses.

"I don't think the government can solely solve this nursing law-ignited problem by clearing these three issues," he said. "It is important for all members of the society to discuss each issue and reach an agreement."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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