South Korean hospitals extend working hours to tackle doctors' protest

February 24, 2024 12:29 pm

[Source: Reuters]

Public hospitals in South Korea will extend working hours, the prime minister said on Friday, while expanding use of telemedicine to alleviate growing strain on healthcare services after a mass walkout by thousands of trainee doctors this week.

Hospitals have turned away patients and cancelled surgeries after about two-thirds of the country’s young doctors walked off the job to protest against a government plan for more admissions to medical schools, prompting fears of further disruption.

“The operation of public medical institutions will be raised to the maximum,” Prime Minister Han Duck-soo told a disaster management meeting, saying such hospitals would stay open longer as well as on weekends and holidays to take in the overflow.

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As the walkout entered its fourth day, the health ministry said it was allowing all hospitals and clinics to offer telemedicine services, such as consultations and prescriptions, until now available only a limited basis.

More than 7,800 interns and resident doctors have walked out, the ministry added.

That is just a fraction of the country’s 100,000 doctors, but they have a key role in daily operations at teaching hospitals, where they can make up more than 40% of staff, as cost savings make them attractive for larger hospitals.

They perform crucial tasks in emergency rooms, intensive care units and operating rooms at large hospitals that treat patients referred by smaller hospitals and private clinics.