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Oct. 23  2018
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Doctors' strike paralyzes medical centers nationwide

Disgruntled over a proposed medical reform program, tens of thousands of doctors defied a government warning yesterday and closed down almost every medical clinic in the country.

Source  :  Korea Herald

Disgruntled over a proposed medical reform program, tens of thousands of doctors defied a government warning yesterday and closed down almost every medical clinic in the country.

According to figures compiled by the Health and Welfare Ministry, about 17,300 of the nation's 19,500 hospitals and clinics shut their doors, while most general hospitals suspended operations in all facilities other than intensive-care units and emergency rooms.

In efforts to minimize the public inconvenience, the ministry took emergency steps by directing 414 hospitals designated as emergency medical institutions, 44 state-run and public hospitals and about 3,500 health centers to remain open around the clock.

Even these measures came up short, however, as interns and residents at many state-run facilities such as the National Medical Center, National Police Hospital, Korea Veterans' Hospital and Korea Cancer Center Hospital walked off the job to join the strike.

The Defense Ministry was forced to dispatch military doctors to staff these hospitals.

Most of the 70,000 members of the Korean Medical Association, a leading doctors' group, reported the facility closures to authorities while interns and residents at large hospitals tendered their resignations to top officials.

The ministry immediately issued a back-to-work order and directed city and provincial governments to refuse the closure reports. Violators of the order are subject to prison terms of up to three years, fines of up to 10 million won or 15-day medical license suspensions.

The government also warned that interns and residents who tendered resignations would be drafted into the army.

About 12,000 interns and residents from across the country joined the strike, gathering at Yonsei University in Seoul for an afternoon rally at which they called for the scuttling of what they consider a faulty medical reform program.

Medical students at 41 universities announced plans to stage a "sympathy strike" at Seoul's Chongmyo Park yesterday afternoonThe hardline leadership of the KMA, including association president Kim Jae-jung, also launched a sit-in at KMA headquarters in Ichon-dong, central Seoul, calling on President Kim Dae-jung to order an overall review of the reform plan.

"We deeply regret the public inconvenience and confusion, but it is the government who is to(Continued on Page 10) blame for this chaotic situation," the KMA president said. "We see no point in continuing talks with the Health and Welfare Ministry. The President is now the only person who can resolve this problem." Kim threatened to maintain the strike indefinitely unless the President comes forward in person and takes action, a condition that has been rejected by Chong Wa Dae.

The clash between doctors and the government only worsened as the Seoul Pharmacists' Association announced plans yesterday to boycott the new medical system and expressed outrage at the government's decision Sunday to permit hospitals to sell drugs needed for injections.

"The decision to allow doctors to retain the right to sell injections is a violation of the national consensus on the medical reform program and we will not tolerate it," read a statement issued by the association.

"We (pharmacists) plan to boycott the reform plan unless the health and welfare minister steps down and the government restores the plan to its former state."

The decision by the Seoul pharmacists' group is expected to be followed by other pharmacists' groups, including the Korean Pharmaceutical Association.

Set to take effect July 1, the medical reform program calls for separating the professional roles of doctors and pharmacists.

Under the new system, aimed at preventing drug misuse and abuse among Koreans, doctors will be prohibited from dispensing medications to outpatients, while pharmacists will be banned from prescribing medical remedies.

Doctors are strongly opposed to the changes, saying many clinics will go bankrupt unless doctors' fees are dramatically increased.

Physicians also demanded the government strip pharmacists of the right to substitute replacement drugs for those prescribed by doctors, introduce strong legal measures to prevent pharmacists from writing their own prescriptions, and revise the lists of doctor- and pharmacist-prescribed drugs in favor of physicians.

As a compromise, the government offered to raise doctors' fees for prescriptions by 69 percent but doctors rejected the proposal, saying the hike is too small.

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