(LEAD) Gov’t raises health care crisis level to ‘serious’

The government raised its four-scale health care service crisis gauge to the highest level of "serious" Friday in response to the departure of doctors in their collective action against the planned increase in the medical school admission quota. In an effort to alleviate the growing strain on the medical system, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the government will maximize the use of public medical institutions by extending their operating hours. "First, we will elevate the operational level of public health care institutions to the maximum," Han said during a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters involving officials from related ministries. "We will extend the operating hours of all public health care institutions to the fullest extent possible on weekdays, and we will also expand services for weekend and holiday consultations," he said. Four regional situation rooms responsible for transporting severely ill emergency patients will be opened in early March, in addition to the existing ones, Han said. The government will also ease regulations related to the hiring of medical personnel to help alleviate the workload of doctors, nurses and hospital officials who remain at their workplace, Han added. More than 8,000 trainee doctors, accounting for more than 60 percent of the country's interns and residents, have walked off the job in protest against the government's plan to admit more students to medical schools. The walkout, which started Tuesday, has prompted major general hospitals to cancel between 30 and 50 percent of their surgeries and turn away patients seeking emergency care.