(LEAD) Medical school quota increase ‘irreversible’: presidential office

SEOUL, The office of President Yoon Suk Yeol said Monday that the government's decision to increase the medical school quota is "irreversible," denouncing doctors' threats of collective action as unjustifiable. A senior presidential official made the remark as doctors and the government were on a collision course over last week's decision to add 2,000 to the country's medical school enrollment quota next year, a sharp rise from the current 3,058 medical school seats. The move came as the country has been grappling with a shortage of doctors in crucial areas, as medical professionals tend to prefer practicing in nonessential areas with lower risks. But doctors argue that the decision will lead to a surplus of physicians. "I believe that collective action by doctors has no justification," the presidential official told reporters, noting that the issue of expanding the quota has long been discussed and no progress has been made. "We have missed the right timing to implement the policy every time due to vari ous circumstances," the official said. "Now, the situation has reached a point where (the medical school quota increase decision) is irreversible." In protest of the decision, the Korea Medical Association (KMA), a major lobby group for doctors, said it will hold protest rallies nationwide on Thursday as the first collective action after the entity went into emergency mode. The Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA), another doctors' organization, is also anticipated to take a collective move, as its recent survey showed 88 percent of the members plan to join the protest. KIRA intends to convene a meeting of representatives later on Monday to discuss the course of action. The government is highly anticipated to take stern responses should doctors stage a strike. The Medical Service Act stipulates that the government possesses the authority to potentially revoke doctors' licenses should they receive criminal punishments after failing to adhere to the order to return to work. Upon the announcement of t he enrollment hike, Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said the government would take "actions under principles and the law, in accordance with our legal duty" should doctors stage a strike. In a separate social media post on Monday, Cho also noted that the government's recent decision was aimed at making local hospitals "sustainable." "I understand that there are many protests and concerns in regard to the expansion of the medical school quota," Cho said. "But we ask doctors not to doubt the government's sincerity in its efforts to make hospitals a sustainable workplace." The health ministry also decided to establish an emergency hotline to address complaints related to the disruption of medical services, bracing for potential collective action by local doctors. Source: Yonhap News Agency