South Korean Prime Minister Urges Doctors Against Strike Over Medical School Quota Hike

SEOUL — Prime Minister Han Duck-soo has called on South Korean doctors to avoid collective action as a response to the government's controversial decision to increase medical school enrollment seats, amidst threats of a significant strike by the medical community.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the Prime Minister's plea comes in light of the medical community's reaction to the government's earlier announcement this month, which plans to add 2,000 seats to the country's medical school freshmen quota next year. This increase represents a substantial rise from the current 3,058 seats, sparking fears of a health care vacuum should doctors proceed with their planned strike.

Han emphasized the critical impact such actions could have on public health, stating, "If doctors actually take action resulting in a health care vacuum, the damage will fall on the people." He further highlighted that successful medical sector reforms depend on increasing the number of doctors in the country.

The call for restraint follows announcements by trainee doctors from five major general hospitals in Seoul, who indicated plans to submit their resignation letters and walk off the job in the following days. In response to the growing unrest, the government has mandated hospitals to submit daily work logs of doctors, threatening stern actions against those engaging in strikes.

An official from the health ministry detailed preventative measures against doctors who leave work to join strikes, even after receiving government orders to return. By Friday afternoon, 235 trainee doctors had submitted resignation letters, with the government issuing work-resumption orders to 103 doctors. Among those ordered to return, 100 complied, though the status of the remaining three remains unconfirmed.

The government, under local medical law, holds the authority to revoke doctors' licenses for non-compliance with return-to-work orders, further escalating tensions. The Korean Medical Association has warned of indefinite strikes if the government persists in its threats against interns and residents opposing the enrollment increase.

Amidst these developments, major hospitals have announced potential adjustments to surgery schedules due to the collective actions. Additionally, students from 35 out of 40 medical schools have shown solidarity with the protesting doctors, planning to submit leave of absence requests.

A recent Gallup Korea survey revealed that 76 percent of respondents support the increase in the medical school quota, highlighting public favor towards the government's decision despite the ongoing controversy within the medical community.

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