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Hopes for breakthrough fade as talks yield no change in stance

Doctors reportedly grappling with internal rift following Yoon’s meeting with KIRA chief

By Park Jun-hee

Published : April 5, 2024 - 15:28

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A medical personnel walks down the hospital corridor (Yonhap) A medical personnel walks down the hospital corridor (Yonhap)

Hopes for a breakthrough in the protracted medical standoff are fading after the meeting between President Yoon Suk Yeol and Park Dan, the head of the Korean Intern Resident Association, ended without agreement Thursday, with the two sides still far apart.

Amid the impasse, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said during Friday’s government response meeting that the government would continue to “communicate flexibility” with junior doctors but “based on principles.”

“The government and junior doctors are on the same page when it comes to thinking about patients and the people. … The government remains committed to (medical) reform. Again, we (would like to) ask junior doctors to believe in the government’s sincerity and engage in talks,” Han said.

The remarks come after Yoon said he would respect junior doctors’ position on the medical student quota expansion plan when discussing the matter with the medical community in the future after he met with the KIRA chief.

Han also noted that the government was “ready to open its heart and ears to other members of the medical circle,” stressing that patients and the people are bearing the brunt of the strife, referring to the collective walkout that has entered its seventh week.

Later in the day, Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo urged the medical community to end their collective action and come to the table for discussions over the expansion plan.

“The government is making a run to facilitate talks with the medical community (over the expansion plan and medical reform policies). The president met the head of the junior doctors’ group, and little drops make a mighty ocean,” Park told reporters during Friday’s briefing.

But there is little sign of actual movement from either side.

Vice Health Minister Park said during the same briefing that the government “remains static” on the addition of 2,000 medical school places. The government has previously asked the medical community to come up with a unified proposal on the appropriate increase in medical school admissions.

He also declined to comment on the progress made in dealing with the suspension of striking trainee doctors’ licenses. Last month, Yoon called for “flexible ways” of handling the case by consulting with political parties.

The Medical Professors Association of Korea also said the same day that it plans to file a constitutional appeal before the April 10 general election over the Seoul Administrative Court’s decision to dismiss an injunction request filed by medical professors against the planned hike in medical school enrollment quotas.

Doctors are reportedly grappling with an internal rift following the KIRA head’s discussion with Yoon.

Lim Hyun-taek, the newly elected president of the Korean Medical Association -- the largest coalition of doctors’ groups here, with some 140,000 members, on Friday hinted that the meeting left him at a loss for words.

“A few enemies inside are more difficult for me to handle than a huge enemy outside,” his Facebook post read.

In addition, junior doctors demanded that Park Dan step down, claiming that his decision to meet with the president was made without properly heeding other members’ opinions.