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South Korea mandates striking doctors to return to work.

Photo-Reuters

Late on Friday, South Korea's government issued a public order targeting 13 doctors, some of whom had been outspoken about a strike involving approximately 9,000 physicians protesting a health system reform proposal. This move reflects the government's firm stance against trainee doctors involved in the strike or critical of the reform plan. Earlier on Friday, amidst a public holiday in South Korea, local police conducted raids on officials of a doctor's association, indicating heightened pressure on dissenting voices within the medical community.

The Ministry of Health took the extraordinary step of publishing a public legal notice on its website, listing the license numbers and affiliated hospitals of the 13 targeted doctors. The notice warned them to return to work promptly or risk potential penalties, including license suspension or criminal charges. Although the doctors' identities were partially redacted, it is evident that some of them, such as Park Dan, head of the Korea Interns and Residents Association, have been vocal critics of the government's handling of the situation.

In addition to the legal measures, authorities intensified their efforts on Friday, with South Korean police conducting raids specifically targeting officials of the Korean medical association. The government had previously set a deadline for doctors to resume work by Thursday, threatening consequences for non-compliance. However, despite these warnings, health ministry data revealed that a significant majority of trainee doctors, nearly 9,000 in total, continued to participate in the strike, ignoring the government's ultimatum.

The ongoing dispute revolves around the government's proposal to increase medical school admissions by 2,000 slots starting from 2025. This measure aims to address a perceived shortage of doctors in South Korea, particularly in the context of the country's rapidly aging population. However, many doctors view the plan with skepticism and have expressed concerns about its potential impact on the quality of medical education and patient care.

Amidst this tense standoff, doctors are planning a large-scale demonstration on Sunday to voice their opposition to the government's reform agenda. The protest represents a unified effort by medical professionals to push back against what they perceive as a unilateral decision that could have far-reaching implications for the healthcare system. As the situation continues to escalate, both the government and the medical community are bracing for further confrontation, with the outcome likely to shape the future trajectory of healthcare policy in South Korea.

March 2, 2024 3:06 p.m. 10580

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