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Korean hospitals suffer massive losses due to doctors’ walkout

Major hospitals across the country are struggling with massive losses due to a nationwide walkout by thousands of trainee doctors, who are protesting the government’s medical school quota hike policy, which is now in its eighth week.

More than 90 percent of the country’s 13,000 trainee doctors — comprising interns and residents — have been on strike since Feb. 20, protesting against the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s decision to add 2,000 new slots to the annual medical school admissions quota, currently set at 3,058, starting next year.

Large hospitals, which have relied heavily on trainee doctors, have been suffering deficits in the hundreds of millions of won every day, as the numbers of surgeries and other patient treatments have nosedived following the walkout.

Asan Medical Center recently began accepting applications for voluntary retirement, becoming the first to do so among the five biggest general hospitals in Seoul.

The voluntary retirements are intended for employees who are aged 50 or older and have worked for more than 20 years. However, doctors are excluded from the move.

“We are accepting the applications until April 19 in accordance with the decision concerning emergency management,” a hospital official said.

The hospital has been in emergency management mode since March 15.

Park Seung-il, the head of the hospital, said earlier this month that it suffered a net loss of 51.1 billion won ($38 million) from Feb. 20 to March 30.

“During this 40-day period, the government provided a mere 1.7 billion won in support,” Park said in an email sent to medical professors of the hospital.

“If the current standoff continues or gets worse, the net loss by the end of the year is expected to be around 460 billion won.”

Other major hospitals in the capital have also implemented emergency management and encouraged their employees to go on unpaid leave in an effort to cut labor costs. Some have even postponed the recruitment process for nurses.

Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) closed down 10 out of its 60 wards on a temporary basis, including those for emergency patients and cancer patients. Inpatients in those wards were relocated. The decision was aimed at “operating our human resources more efficiently and flexibly,” an SNUH official said.

Hospitals located outside the greater Seoul area, such as Ulsan University Hospital and Pusan National University Hospital, are facing similar situations, as they have combined parts of their wards and are accepting applications for unpaid leave from their employees.

Amid snowballing losses faced by hospitals, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Tuesday that it will draw up a measure to allow nurses, who are currently on unpaid leave, to work for different medical institutes experiencing personnel shortages.

Deputy Health Minister Jun Byung-wang also said on April 2, “We are reviewing additional measures to expand government support.”

The government is seeking to expand the medical school enrollment quota in a bid to improve public access to medical services amid an apparent shortage of doctors in the country.

Doctors oppose this, saying the schools are not ready to train such large numbers of incoming students and therefore the quality of medical education will be compromised. The Korea Times

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