May 25, 2024

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will move quickly to improve pay and working conditions for young doctors, the government said on Friday, tackling a key demand by medical trainees who have walked off the job, but denying there was a full-scale healthcare crisis.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the current practice of forcing young doctors to work 36 hours at a stretch was partly responsible for their protest walkout and must be changed.

“We will start the trial as soon as possible,” he said, adding that the government would consider limiting to 24 hours the period that resident doctors and interns must work continuously.

From this month, trainee doctors in paediatrics will receive an allowance of 1 million won ($757) from this month, and the government plans similar payments for other trainee doctors, he added.

It will start with those in essential specialisations such as emergency medicine and general surgery and will allocate additional government budget, he said.

More than 10,000 medical interns and resident doctors are protesting a government plan to increase medical school admissions by 2,000 a year to tackle a shortage of doctors it fears in one of the world’s fastest-ageing populations.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has spearheaded a package of medical reform plans and taken a hard line against the protesters, moving to suspend their medical licences for defying return-to-work orders.

While he said their action had created “chaos” in major hospitals that employ trainee doctors as a key share of their staff, officials said on Friday the situation has stabilised, partly because other doctors and nurses took on extra work.

“To suggest, as some have done, that we have a healthcare crisis, is an exaggeration,” added Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo.

On Friday the government began allowing nurses to perform some procedures restricted previously to doctors, such as CPR and giving some medicines.

A national body of nurses welcomed a government plan to more clearly define their jobs and certify physicians’ assistants who have performed procedures normally beyond the tasks of nurses.

The government and police will investigate reports of striking doctors said to have harassed colleagues who stayed on the job or returned to work, Han added.

($1=1,319.5400 won)

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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