Seoul preps legal action against walkout doctors

STORY: South Korea is preparing to take legal action against thousands of trainee doctors who staged a walkout last month, and ignored an ultimatum to return to work last week.

That’s according to the country’s health minister, who said on Monday that authorities will begin inspecting hospitals to confirm which doctors have not yet returned.

His deputy added that the government would take steps to suspend the medical licenses of some 7,000 trainee doctors who had left their jobs.

The government had previously warned the protesting trainee physicians they could face penalties including the suspension of their medical licenses and fines or even a jail term if they did not return to work by the end of February.

Around 9,000 resident and intern doctors, or about 70% of the country's total, have walked off the job since Feb. 20 in protest of government plans to increase medical school admissions.

They say the government should first address their pay and working conditions before trying to ramp up the number of new physicians.

The walkout has led to the cancellation of some operations, strained emergency departments, and distressed patients like Lee Hye-ji, who is currently on dialysis.

"If I ever need to undergo a kidney transplant surgery and there are no doctors available, it's possible I would be unable to receive the transplant and extremely anxious. I hope trainee doctors return to the hospital quickly so that this issue can be resolved smoothly."

The government maintains the plan to boost medical school admissions is needed in a rapidly aging society with one of the lowest doctor to patient ratios amongst countries in the OECD.

A recent Gallup Korea poll found that over three quarters of Koreans are in favor of the plan, regardless of political affiliation.