News   /   Koreas

South Korea starts process to suspend licences of nearly 5,000 striking junior doctors

Doctors hold up placards reading "Opposition to the increase in medical schools" during a rally against the government's plan to raise the annual enrolment quota at medical schools, in Seoul on March 3, 2024. (File photo by AFP)

South Korea has started a process to suspend licenses of thousands of striking junior doctors protesting the government's medical training reforms.

The South Korean government announced on Monday that it had started procedures to suspend the medical licenses of 4,900 junior doctors who have resigned and stopped working to protest against changes in the medical training system.

The government changes include a plan to increase South Korea's medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 starting next year, from the current 3,058, to better deal with the country's rapidly aging population.

Government healthcare officials say South Korea's doctor-to-population ratio is one of the lowest among the world's developed countries.

Officials say the shortage of doctors, particularly in rural regions and in fields like high-risk surgeries, pediatrics and obstetrics, have caused many medical centers to close or significantly reduce their capacity for patient treatment.

Junior doctors opposed to the plan began their strike on February 19.

Doctors protesting against the government plan have held mass rallies in Seoul.

They fear the reform will erode the quality of service and medical education, but proponents accuse medics of trying to safeguard their salaries and social status.

In the meantime, nearly 12,000 junior doctors, which make up 93 percent of the trainee workforce, were not in their hospitals at the last count, despite a government order to the medical staff to get back to work and threats of legal action.

Seoul has been forced to mobilize military medics and millions of dollars in state reserves to help following the protest. 

South Korea's Health Ministry announced it had sent administrative notifications, the first step to suspending the doctors’ medical licenses, to thousands of trainee doctors after they defied specific orders telling them to return to their hospitals.

“As of March 8 (notifications) have been sent to more than 4,900 trainee doctors,” Chun Byung-wang, director of the health and medical policy division at the health ministry, told reporters.

Prior to the move, the ministry had warned striking doctors they face a three-month suspension of their licenses, a punishment which, it says, will delay by at least a year their ability to qualify as specialists.

Chun said that military doctors will start working in civilian hospitals from Wednesday this week to fill in the gap.

The military doctors were mobilized by the government in response to the shortage of doctors caused by the strike.

Last week, the government announced new measures to improve pay and conditions for trainee medics, plus a review of the continuous 36-hour work period, which is a major gripe of junior doctors.

The government has also set aside millions of dollars of state reserves to ease service shortfalls, but denied that there is a full-blown health care crisis.

Meanwhile, the doctors' strikes have led to cancellation of surgeries, long waiting time and delayed treatments at major hospitals.


Press TV’s website can also be accessed at the following alternate addresses:

Press TV News Roku