PM says expanding workforce of doctors is starting point of healthcare reform

SEOUL, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo called on the medical community Tuesday to cooperate with the government's plan to significantly increase the annual medical school enrollment quota, stating that it marks the starting point of healthcare reform. Last week, the government announced its plan to add 2,000 seats to the country's medical school enrollment quota next year, a sharp rise from the current 3,058 medical school seats that have been capped since 2006. "The expansion of medical school quotas is the starting point and an essential task of healthcare reform, and the public also recognizes the necessity of the plan and supports the government's efforts," Han said while presiding over a Cabinet meeting. The plan has faced strong resistance from doctors' groups who argue that the government should instead focus on better allocating physicians and increasing their compensation. Some have even vowed to go on strike. Han warned of a firm response to any illegalities arising from collective action, emphasiz ing that the country has been suffering from a shortage of doctors in crucial areas, as medical professionals tend to prefer practicing in nonessential areas with lower risks. "(The government) will respond strictly in accordance with the law and principles to illegal acts that threaten the health and lives of the people," Han said. Overnight, the Korean Intern Resident Association, a major doctors' organization comprised of interns and residents, convened a meeting of representatives to discuss their course of action. However, they have not yet released a statement. Meanwhile, the Korea Medical Association, a major lobby group for doctors, announced that it will hold protest rallies nationwide Thursday as its first collective action after the entity went into emergency mode. Source: Yonhap News Agency