The Korea Herald


Police vow to probe doctors’ joint action

By Lee Jung-joo

Published : Feb. 19, 2024 - 16:02

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Medical personnel walk in a corridor on Monday at one of the five major hospitals in Seoul that gave notice of possible collective action in response to the government's recent move to increase the medical school enrollment quota. (Yonhap) Medical personnel walk in a corridor on Monday at one of the five major hospitals in Seoul that gave notice of possible collective action in response to the government's recent move to increase the medical school enrollment quota. (Yonhap)

The police will investigate doctors who undertake joint action in protest of the government’s plan to increase the annual student enrollment quota at medical schools from 2025, Yoon Hee-keun, commissioner general of the Korean National Police Agency told reporters Monday.

Yoon said that the police would investigate any joint action taken by doctors that were reported to law enforcement agencies, adding that arrest warrants would be issued for individual doctors who are “clearly in violation of the law and have a clear intention to not appear for questioning.”

“For those who act as ringleaders of the joint action, the police will also consider (making arrests) after consulting prosecutors,” added Yoon.

Normally, the police would file a request for questioning a few days after a police report has been made, with questioning typically taking place a week after the request has been filed. However, under these circumstances, the police said they would file a request for questioning on the same day a police report is made and demand an interviewee's attendance within the following two or three days.

“If someone fails to appear for questioning within the two-to-three-day period, the police will check whether the demand has been correctly filed and whether they are willing to appear for questioning,” said Yoon. “If the individual fails to appear even after these legal procedures are undertaken, the police will quickly issue an arrest warrant in consultation with the prosecutor’s office.”

As for the reason behind the stricter police measures, Yoon said that “the role of the police is crucial in this case as it is directly related to the well-being and safety of the public.”

“To prevent the issue from spreading too far or from lasting too long, the police will respond with vigorous investigative measures for the public good.”

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, it is illegal for doctors to take joint action as they are not “workers” but specialists who do not have the right to go on strike according to the constitution. As of Friday, up to 715 trainee doctors from 23 hospitals submitted letters of resignation and the government issued a back-to-work order, warning that they would be punished if they refused to comply.

Under the Medical Service Act, a group of doctors who refuse to provide treatment can be ordered to work. However, if they fail to abide by the orders, they could face prison terms of up to three years, which could result in the loss of their licenses.

The Ministry of Justice also instructed the Supreme Prosecutor's Office to maintain an emergency work system until the joint action protest among doctors dies down.

"The prosecutor's office has been ordered to promptly and strictly deal with any illegal joint actions such as violations of medical laws and interference to the medical field and do everything possible to minimize public inconvenience and damage," said the Justice Ministry through an official statement.

A joint investigation will take place between the Ministry of Health and Welfare and local police departments that have jurisdiction over 100 hospitals nationwide to determine whether the doctors who submitted letters of resignation are working or not.

On Monday, the police and the Health Ministry conducted a joint investigation into eight hospitals, including Severance Hospital, Hanyang University Hospital, Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital and Soonchunhyang University Cheonan Hospital.

Currently, three doctors have been identified as having violated the government’s executive orders to resume work but police investigations haven’t officially begun regarding these alleged violations. No calls have been made to the police regarding conflicts in the medical field, requests for help in transporting emergency patients, or emergency patient deaths.

“Frontline police officers have been ordered to treat all reports related to the joint action of doctors as ‘Code 1,’” said Yoon. Code 1 reports call for the emergency dispatch of police officers and require responses in the shortest possible period.

“The police will deploy all available resources, including the police chief, if necessary, depending on the case.”