(3rd LD) Doctors’ group threatens to stage indefinite walkout starting June 27 unless gov’t accepts demands

SEOUL, The nation's largest lobby group of community doctors on Tuesday threatened to begin an indefinite walkout starting June 27 unless the government accepts its demands, including revisiting the issue of increasing medical school admissions. Lim Hyun-taek, head of the Korea Medical Association (KMA), made the remarks at a rally of some 10,000 doctors earlier in the day, when some community doctors staged a one-day walkout in protest of the government's medical reform. "If doctors' rightful demands are not accepted by the government," Lim said community doctors will indefinitely walk off their jobs beginning June 27. The demands included revisiting the issue of the medical school quota hike and withdrawing all punitive steps against trainee doctors who have left hospitals since late February. The government has flatly rejected such demands. On Tuesday, about 14.9 percent of the 36,059 community hospitals, excluding dental and oriental medicine clinics, reported to the government that they were taking a day off, according to the health ministry. The figure was less than half of the corresponding tally for the weekslong walkout staged by doctors in 2020 in protest against the government's medical reform scheme. The Korea Severe Disease Association, a local patients' advocacy group, meanwhile, condemned the walkout, noting that doctors "have discarded the Hippocratic oath," which refers to a vow taken by healthcare workers. Earlier in the day, the government ordered community doctors who joined a one-day walkout to return to work, warning that they would face legal punishment unless they comply with the order. "If the medical vacuum becomes a reality, we plan to carry out on-site investigations and gather evidence to launch administrative actions, including suspending practices in accordance with the medical law," Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said. "We also plan to take stern actions against social media posts inciting illegal collective action to refuse medical services under the disguise of voluntary participation," Cho added. On Monday, medical professors at Seoul National University started walking off their jobs, demanding the government readjust a hike in medical admission quotas and fully withdraw punitive steps against trainee doctors. Medical professors at other major hospitals, including Asan Medical Center, Samsung Medical Center, Severance Hospital and Seoul St. Mary's Hospital, have also vowed to join the walkout. Late last month, the government finalized an admissions quota hike of some 1,500 students for medical schools, marking the first such increase in 27 years. The health ministry reported the KMA to the Fair Trade Commission for an investigation as it allegedly incited community doctors to take part in the collective action in violation of the fair trade law. Under the law, business associations are banned from unfairly interrupting the business activities of their members or restricting competition. The ministry has also issued an order prohibiting 17 senior members of the KMA, in cluding its leader Lim, from engaging in or inciting collective action. Source: Yonhap News Agency