(LEAD) Hospitals struggle to cope with patients as trainee doctors stop work for 3rd day

Major general hospitals in Seoul and elsewhere struggled to cope with patients Thursday, as thousands of trainee doctors left their worksites for the third day in a row in protest of a plan to boost the number of medical students. A confrontation between doctors and the government over the plan to raise the medical school admission quota by 2,000 seats intensified as authorities pledged to seek arrest warrants in principle for those who spearhead the collective resignations by interns and resident doctors nationwide. As of Wednesday night, 9,275 trainee doctors, or 74.4 percent of all junior doctors, have submitted their resignations, and 8,024 of them have left their worksites, Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told reporters. Park said the government has ordered more than 6,000 trainee doctors to return to work. So far, the ministry has received about 150 complaints in connection with the trainee doctors' collective resignations. "The power of doctors does not come from collective action," Park t old a daily press briefing, calling for trainee doctors "to remember that patients are waiting for you at this moment." Park also urged trainee doctors to participate in talks with the government. The collective resignations of junior doctors are fueling concerns of a "health care service vacuum," with the operation of surgery rooms slashed to as low as 50 percent capacity at the five biggest general hospitals in Seoul, medical sources said. Surgeries were cut in half at Severance Hospital in central Seoul, with St. Mary's Hospital and Asan Medical Center in southern and eastern Seoul, respectively, reducing their surgery capacities by 30 percent. Despite the government's back-to-work order, trainee doctors have shown no signs of backing down. In a statement, the Korean Intern Resident Association, a major organization of trainee doctors, demanded the government withdraw the plan to increase the number of medical students. Source: Yonhap News Agency