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South Korea to suspend junior doctors licences

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s government said Thursday it will start suspending the licences of striking junior doctors next week.

Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo made the comments during a briefing as he repeated demands for the doctors to return to work immediately.

More than 90 per cent of the country’s 13,000 medical interns and residents have been on strike for about a month to protest the government’s plan to sharply increase medical school admissions. Their strikes have caused hundreds of cancelled surgeries and other treatments at hospitals.

The government has been taking a series of administrative steps to suspend their licences after they missed a government-set, Feb. 29 deadline to return to work.

Officials say the recruitment plan is aimed at adding more doctors to prepare for South Korea’s rapidly ageing population in a country whose doctor-to-population ratio is one of the lowest in the developed world. But doctors say schools can’t handle an abrupt, steep increase in students, and that it would ultimately undermine the country’s medical services.

The striking junior doctors account for less than 10 per cent of South Korea’s 140,000 doctors. But in some major hospitals, they represent about 30 to 40 per cent of the doctors, assisting senior doctors during surgeries and dealing with inpatients while training.

FILE – Doctors stage a rally against the government’s medical policy in Seoul, South Korea, on March 3, 2024. PHOTO: AP