Yoon says collective action by doctors ‘shakes foundations of liberty and rule of law’

Posted on : 2024-03-07 17:23 KST Modified on : 2024-03-07 17:23 KST
The South Korean president reiterated that his administration would take stern action against doctors who do not return to hospitals
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting held at the government complex in Sejong on March 6, 2024. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting held at the government complex in Sejong on March 6, 2024. (Yonhap)

In response to the mass resignations of medical interns and residents protesting an increase in the number of medical school students, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol declared on Wednesday that the government has “no choice but to take strong actions according to principles and the law” with regard to what he called “illegal collective action that has taken the lives of the Korean people hostage.”

“We will fulfill the medical reform that the people require, without fail and without hesitation,” the president added. 

Yoon presided over back-to-back meetings of the state Cabinet and the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters at the government complex in Sejong on Monday. 

“The collective action taken by doctors is a betrayal of their duty, and it’s shaking the foundations of liberty and the rule of law,” Yoon said. 

This was the first time Yoon presided over a CDSCH meeting concerning the walkouts and resignations by trainee doctors. By taking direct administrative action against doctors who are refusing to return to their posts, Yoon is making a clear and forceful stand in his campaign to increase the number of doctors in Korea. 

Calling on doctors to fulfill their “public duty” and “legal obligations,” Yoon placed all responsibility for the current shortage in medical staff on doctors, emphasizing the legitimacy of the government’s response. 

“Our Constitution bestows a strong public duty on the state and on doctors to protect the lives and health of the Korean people,” Yoon said. 

“The state bestows a medical license upon doctors, and has the right to take it away if doctors violate their professional duty. That is the state fulfilling its responsibility to protect the lives and health of the people,” he added. 

“I will not allow this illegal collective action which violates the people’s right to life,” Yoon declared.  

To fill the vacuum in health care that’s resulted from doctors’ mass resignations, Yoon has vowed to establish an “emergency healthcare system to minimize harm to the public.” 

Yoon has also pledged to increase compensation for treatments of critical patients at the country’s top five hospitals; to dispatch public health doctors and military medical officers to hospitals experiencing staff shortages; to subsidize the hiring of specialists and nurses in fields with personnel shortages; and to establish a legal framework for protecting the rights of physician assistants.  

The president also announced an expenditure of 128.5 billion won (US$96.7 million) to finance emergency medical response measures.

“All government departments will act accordingly so that the people will not be placed in danger. The state will do all that is necessary to protect doctors in the field and the Korean people,” Yoon declared.  

By Lee Seung-jun, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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