Gov’t Must Listen to Doctors, But Strike Is Not the Answer

August 24, 2020 13:31

Medical interns and residents across the country began a walkout on Sunday against the government’s plans to expand admissions quotas at medical schools. Full-time and private-practice doctors also plan to join the strike between Wednesday and Friday, raising serious concerns of a paralysis of the country’s medical system. New coronavirus infections soared by 397 cases on Saturday. That means the risk of contracting the virus is everywhere. Lee Jong-koo at Seoul National University said, “There is a chance of the daily number of infections surpassing 1,000 cases,” and Jung Eun-kyeong, the chief of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “We are facing a nationwide crisis.”

There is no guarantee that the country will succeed in overcoming the epidemic even if all hands are on deck. The danger is that Korea might walk down the paths of Europe and the U.S. in the early phase of the pandemic, which resulted in a collapse of some medical systems due to a sudden overload in patients. If that happens, critical patients and those requiring emergency medical care will be ignored, and elderly patients could miss out on life-saving medication.

Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said Saturday that the government will postpone the medical reform plans until the coronavirus situation eases, but the Korean Medical Association said it no longer trusts the government and demanded that the entire agenda be scrapped. The Korean Intern Resident Association offered on Sunday to hold talks with the government, but it remains to be seen if the two sides can find common ground.

There are apparently only around 200 infectious disease experts in Korea who are capable of managing the epidemic, and only one pediatric surgeon each at all of the university-run and general hospitals in Anyang, Gwacheon, Gunpo and Uiwang south of Seoul. There is also sharp imbalance in doctors available in the Seoul metropolitan area and those practicing in other parts of the country because doctors, like most other people, want to work in the capital. But the government should not have raised this sensitive issue at the height of an epidemic. It must let doctors focus on combating coronavirus. The cooperation of the medical community is the most important thing at the moment. The ministry stirred up a hornet’s nest even though it knew what would happen.

The ministry claims that it could not postpone the plan any longer because it will take up to 10 years to see the effects of the plan once it is implemented, meaning that many parts of the country have to continue to suffer the dearth of doctors. Then why did it wait until now to raise the issue? It seems clear that the government is once again trying to exploit the epidemic to stir public sentiment in its favor. That is highly irresponsible. It must listen to the opinions of doctors, and doctors must go back to work immediately.

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