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(2nd LD) Yoon calls for unified proposal on med school admissions increase

President Yoon Suk Yeol called on doctors Monday to come up with a "unified proposal" on the appropriate increase in medical school admissions, saying the government will be open to talks though it believes a hike of 2,000 is the minimum. Yoon made the remark during an address to the nation amid little sign of a breakthrough in a standoff between the government and the medical community over the admissions quota hike. The address, which lasted 50 minutes and was aired live from the presidential office, came as even people within the ruling bloc raised the need to show flexibility on the 2,000-person increase with only days to go until the April 10 general elections. "The number 2,000 is a minimum increase the government came up with through thorough calculations, and followed sufficient and wide-ranging discussions with the medical community, including doctors' groups, until the decision was reached," Yoon said. "If the medical community wants to argue for reducing the size of the increase, it is only rig ht for them to suggest a unified proposal to the government, with a clear and scientific basis, and not take collective action. If they bring a more reasonable and rational measure, we can discuss it any time," he said. Some 12,000 junior doctors have walked off the job since Feb. 20 to protest the government's plan, while medical professors have submitted their resignations en masse to join the collective action. The professors, who work as senior doctors at major hospitals, have vowed to reduce their working hours starting this week to cope with growing fatigue caused by the prolonged walkout by their juniors. Community doctors have said they will take similar action. Yoon said his bigger concern is that even with the 2,000-person increase, it will be another 10 years before the newly trained doctors join the workforce. He stressed that the medical reform plan is meant for the people, by citing incidents of people dying on the streets while looking for an emergency room that will take them, and arguing the aim is to improve essential medical services and rural medical services so that people anywhere in the country can receive proper treatment. Currently, there are 115,000 doctors in the country. If their number increases by 2,000 annually starting 10 years from now, only in 2045 will there be an additional 20,000 doctors, he said. "Past governments fought and lost all nine times and doctors' job cartels only got stronger," Yoon said, referring to previous administrations' attempts to increase the quota over the last 27 years. "We can no longer afford to repeat such failures." Yoon said the medical reform package proposed by the government addresses doctors' demands by promising more than 10 trillion won (US$7.4 billion) in investment to fairly compensate those practicing in essential medical fields and in rural areas. The package also promises to establish a legal safety net to better protect doctors from excessive medical malpractice suits, he said. In response to concerns doctors' earnings will decre ase in the future, Yoon said that will not be the case, given that in 20 years time, the number of doctors will increase by 20,000, but people's incomes and demand for health care will increase far more with a rapidly aging population. He went to great lengths to refute allegations the government did not properly consult the medical community by listing the dates and number of times it met with doctors' groups and naming the groups involved. Despite the government's requests, Yoon said doctors' groups did not suggest a number for the admissions quota increase while repeating their argument there was no shortage of physicians. "Now they are throwing out numbers all over the place, suggesting 350, 500 or 1,000, without any basis," he said. "Not only that, they are threatening that there should be 500 to 1,000 fewer than currently." Yoon called on trainee doctors to return to work, noting that relevant procedures are under way to punish those who refuse to obey the government's return-to-work orders. He als o criticized the Korean Medical Association, the biggest doctors' group, over its recent demands for the removal of the health minister and vice health minister and threats to sway voters' choices in next week's general elections. "It is not that I am pushing for reform because I don't know how to calculate political gains and losses," he said. "It is because I have witnessed for a long time the groans of the people suffering from pain." Yoon called on doctors' groups to promptly come to the table for talks with the government. To the people, he said, "Now is a time that requires courage. ... I earnestly plead for your support and backing so that the government can complete the medical reform for the people." Source: Yonhap News Agency