South Korea to improve young doctors’ pay, denies healthcare is in crisis

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SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea plans quick measures to improve pay and working conditions for young doctors, the government said on Friday, addressing 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.

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

The striking doctors argue that simply adding medical students will not address pay and work conditions, and could possibly exacerbate the problems.

While not backing off the government’s plans for more medical students, the proposals outlined by Han appeared aimed at finding common ground with the protesters.

The striking doctors and medical associations that have been critical of the government did not immediately publicly comment on the proposals.

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

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

President Yoon Suk Yeol has taken a hard line against the protesters, taking steps toward suspending their medical licences for defying return-to-work orders.

The president said on Wednesday their action had created “chaos” in major hospitals that employ trainee doctors as a key share of their staff. However, 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,” said 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.

($1=1,319.5400 won)

(Reporting by Jack KimEditing by Clarence Fernandez and Frances Kerry)

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