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South Korea to take legal action against 7,000 trainee doctors on strike

South Korea said it will start taking legal measures against trainee doctors continuing their strike against the government’s plan to increase medical school admissions.

About 70 per cent of the country’s junior and trainee doctors, totalling around 9,000, have been on strike since 20 February, disrupting some medical services and emergency departments.

The government had previously warned these doctors of potential administrative and legal consequences, including the possibility of having their medical licenses suspended, and facing fines or imprisonment if they did not return to work by the end of last month.

“From today, we plan to conduct on-site inspections to confirm trainee doctors who have not returned, and take action according to the law and principle without exception,” health minister Cho Kyoo-hong told a televised briefing.

“Please keep in mind that doctors who have not returned may experience serious problems in their personal career path.”

On Sunday, thousands of South Korean doctors participated in a large-scale demonstration organised by the Korean Medical Association [KMA], which speaks for private practitioners, openly challenging government demands for striking trainee doctors to resume their duties.

The World Medical Association, a group representing physicians, said in a statement on Sunday it “strongly condemns the actions of the Korean Government in attempting to stifle the voices of elected leaders within the Korean Medical Association,” adding it affirmed the right of doctors to collective action, including strikes.

The striking doctors are opposing the government’s proposal to increase the medical school entry quota by 2,000 seats next year. They say the government should first address pay and working conditions before trying to increase the number of physicians.

South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios among major economies and recently the government proposed to add 2,000 slots to the current annual quota of 3,000 medical students.

A Gallup Korea poll recently revealed that 76 per cent of the respondents reacted positively to the government’s plan for medical school quota expansion.

The Independent has reached out to the Korea Medical Association for comment.