The government on Wednesday warned of stern actions against doctors' planned strike later this week, as their collective actions could disrupt the country's medical service and cause harm to people.
The Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA), a group of doctors in training, earlier said its members will hold an all-out strike Friday in protest of the government's plan to raise admission quotas at medical schools.
The government said it is ready to hold talks with doctors over the issue, but also warned of stern measures if their planned walkout causes severe harm to people.
"We call for doctors to refrain from making collective actions and ask them to resolve the issue through dialogue and consultation," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a briefing.
As part of the country's medical workforce reform plan, the health ministry is planning to expand admission quotas at medical schools by 4,000 over the next 10 years, starting in 2022, and to open a new public medical school as it seeks to broaden the reach of health care services.
This will increase the number of students admitted annually to medical schools to 3,458 in the 2022-2031 period from the current 3,058, according to the plan.
Doctors have opposed what they called the government's "hasty and unilateral" decision.
This week's planned strike has sparked concerns that it could paralyze the health care system, as doctors in training who work in essential fields closely linked to patients' lives, including intensive care units, surgery and emergency rooms, will join the walkout.
Related to the standoff, KIRA said it has set up a formal dialogue channel with the government to work out differences, although stressing its members will still stage a walk out later this week.
"Initial discussions with the health ministry revealed the profound differences in views," a representative for the association said, adding that doctors firmly oppose any action that will change the admission quota and affect the quality of working conditions.
The doctor's group then said that despite some concerns, it plans assign a minimum number of personnel to provide essential medical services at key hospitals to minimize inconvenience for the general public.
The Korea Medical Association (KMA), an interest group that represents 130,000 doctors, also plans to stage a separate general strike on Aug. 14.
The government called on doctors to reconsider their move to stage a full-scale strike at a time when the country is struggling to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
"Under the serious situation tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are voicing grave concerns that the medical sector is seeking collective suspension of medical services," Kim said. (Yonhap)