Patients’ fears mount for potential prolongation of medical service disruptions

SEOUL, Patients and families voiced mounting concerns Wednesday that ongoing disruptions in medical services might be further prolonged, as many general hospitals are reducing service capacities in the aftermath of the monthlong walkout by protesting trainee doctors. The standoff over the expansion of the nationwide medical school quota is deepening, with the government announcing the previous day that it will complete follow-up measures for the recent distribution of 2,000 additional admission seats to universities by the end of May. The Korean Medical Association, the biggest doctors' group, is adamant that doctors will not engage in dialogue with the government unless the quota hike is withdrawn first. Since Monday, medical professors at many universities and general hospitals nationwide have begun submitting resignations en masse in support of the monthlong walkout by more than 10,000 trainee doctors, further exacerbating disruptions in health care services across the nation. With no signs of an imme diate breakthrough between the two sides, patients and their caregivers are increasingly worried that health care service disruptions might extend over a long period of time, further delaying access to essential surgeries and emergent medical services. A woman in her 30s, whose 60-something mother has recently been diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer, is concerned that the medical service paralysis could affect her mother's anticancer therapy. "She must undergo anticancer treatment at least once every three weeks because she is currently at a stage where surgery is impossible," she told Yonhap News Agency at Chungbuk National University Hospital in Cheongju, 112 kilometers southeast of Seoul. She was accompanying her mother for a hospital visit. "I am really nervous that this treatment cycle could be affected if medical professors at the hospital decide to resign too," she said. Another 70-something kidney disease patient, who was visiting the hospital, vented frustration. "The function of my kidney is now only 15 percent of its full capacity and I have to visit the hospital every month for regular checkups. I was told that I might soon need to have regular dialysis," the patient said. "If medical professors resign it would effectively amount to telling us that patients like me should die," the patient said. Regional units of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, one of the country's two biggest umbrella trade unions, held rallies across the nation simultaneously, calling for normalization of medical services. "The government and the doctors' community should not neglect the medical service vacuum, which is putting the lives of patients at risk and depriving workers of their right to survival," a member of the trade union's branch in Gangwon Province said during a rally, calling for speedy normalization. Many general hospitals across the nation have reduced outpatient services or operation capacities by temporarily shutting down or integrating different hospital wards after the trainee doctors' w alkout is jolting their operations and incurring financial deficits. Seoul National University Hospital in central Seoul has temporarily closed 10 of its 60 hospital wards, including those for cancer and emergent patients, to optimize human resources, reportedly in anticipation of a potential prolongation of the walkout. Asan Medical Center in southeastern Seoul also shut down nine of its 56 wards, followed by Seoul St. Mary's Hospital in southern Seoul and Severance Hospital in western Seoul. Through Friday, more medical professors across the nation are predicted to join the collective action by submitting resignations, although they have said they will continue their duties as long as their resignations are not granted. Source: Yonhap News Agency