Korea’s medical crisis expected to worsen after Yoon-Lee meeting

Doctors take an escalator at a hospital in Daegu, Tuesday. Newsis

As President Yoon Suk Yeol and Rep. Lee Jae-myung, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), found common ground on the necessity of medical reform during their meeting, the government is expected to take emboldened steps forward with its planned increase in medical school admissions.The opposition leader’s de facto endorsement is expected to boost the Yoon administration’s medical reform plan, indicating that the ongoing impasse with striking doctors over the medical school admissions quota hike could worsen.Yoon and Lee held their first-ever official meeting, Monday, which continued for over two hours. Among the array of topics discussed, the urgency of carrying out medical reform was apparently the only issue they saw eye-to-eye on.During the meeting, the DPK leader conveyed his party’s support to the government’s policy direction regarding medical reform and expressed willingness to collaborate on the issue, according to the presidential office.”President Yoon and Chairman Lee both recognized the imperative for health care reform and agreed that increasing medical school admissions is unavoidable,” senior presidential secretary for public relations Lee Do-woon told reporters shortly after the meeting.The DPK leader’s remarks during Monday’s meeting carry significance as the opposition party has thus far maintained a rather ambiguous stance on the matter.While it has criticized the Yoon administration’s unilateral push for medical reform, the DPK has not directly opposed the medical school quota hike itself, a policy once pursued by the former liberal Moon Jae-in government but withdrawn due to doctors’ fierce protests at the time.Thus, the DPK’s support for the medical reform plan is expected to embolden the government to push ahead with its policiy despite escalating protests by doctors.

Lim Hyun-taek, who is set to assume office as the new president of the Korean Medical Association (KMA), Wednesday, said that Monday’s meeting only showed that both the president and the DPK leader do not properly understand the country’s medical system.”Our stance remains unchanged. We will begin discussions from square one only if the government scraps the expansion of medical school admissions and essential health care package policy,” Lim was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency, Tuesday.The government’s medical reform plan, which includes a hike in medical student admission quotas by up to 2,000 slots from next year, has triggered vehement opposition from doctors’ associations.Since late February, over 90 percent of the nation’s 13,000 trainee doctors have launched a strike in the form of a mass resignation movement, with medical professors working in general hospitals now following suit by taking leave weekly.On Tuesday, some medical professors at major hospitals in Seoul, including Severance Hospital, Seoul National University Hospital and hospitals affiliated with Korea University, suspended their work for a day, with exceptions made for treating emergency room patients and those requiring critical care.The move comes after a recent decision by a group of medical professors to suspend treating patients at least once a week, complaining that they are bearing the brunt of filling the medical void left by the trainee doctors’ strike.Although the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Tuesday’s collective action by medical professors did not immediately lead to severe health care disruptions, patients felt otherwise.”Neither the government nor the doctors seem to prioritize the well-being of patients, who are being held hostage in their prolonged standoff. Now that senior doctors have joined the collective action, chaos in hospitals is inevitable,” said Ahn Ki-jong, head of the Korea Alliance of Patients 슬롯놀이터 Organization.

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