(LEAD) Doctors warn of ‘unbearable’ action if gov’t continues to threaten trainees

SEOUL, Doctors warned Saturday that they will take "unbearable" steps and could walk off the job indefinitely if the government continues to threaten interns and residents opposing its plan to increase the number of medical students. The Korea Medical Association (KMA), representing the majority of doctors in South Korea, made the statement after the ruling People Power Party (PPP) signaled stern action against a looming strike by doctors opposing the government plan to increase the med student quota by 2,000. "We express strong regret over the government's inappropriate comments threatening to revoke licenses and discouraging the individual's will to voluntarily step down as a trainee doctor," the KMA's emergency committee said following a meeting. "If they continue to intimidate, we warn that we could seek legal action," the committee said. The committee strongly warned of an "unbearable" action if "any single one of the doctors is put at a disadvantage" over the protest. Plans for any collection acti on at the KMA level will be decided by a vote of all members, the committee said, without specifying when they plan to carry it out. "By collection action, we don't mean a day off, but an indefinite strike," Kim Taek-woo, head of the KMA emergency committee said. The government and the PPP have taken a tough stance on doctors protesting against the plan to add more physicians to resolve the shortage of doctors. Trainee doctors at major hospitals are poised to resign en masse early next week and doctors have warned of a large-scale strike and other responses in opposition to the plan. The PPP reiterated the warning earlier in the day that it will take stern action against the doctors planning the strike, blaming them for putting the national health care system at risk. Earlier this week, trainee doctors of five major general hospitals in Seoul said they would submit their letters of resignation Monday, intensifying their strike threat over the plan to increase the number of medical students. They also de cided to walk off the job next Tuesday, according to the Korea Intern Resident Association. The five hospitals -- Asan Medical Center, Samsung Medical Center, Severance Hospital, Seoul National University Hospital and Seoul St. Mary's Hospital -- have played a key role in providing medical care for critical patients. In response, the health ministry had ordered 221 training hospitals to ban mass leave and maintain essential medical personnel, reaffirming the government's pledge to take stern measures against any collective action by doctors that threatens the safety of patients. In a bid to block the potential strike, the government has ordered training hospitals to reject such resignation letters from intern and resident doctors. Unless residents step down legally as doctors, they must return to work if the government issues an administrative order because doctors are classified as essential workers. Public opinion is also unfavorable to the doctors, according to a survey conducted by the Korean Health and Medical Workers' Union in December, where 89.3 percent of the respondents supported the government's plan and 85.6 percent were against the doctors going on strike. Despite the government's warning of a stern response, medical students were also pushing for boycotting classes en masse in protest of the medical school quota hike plan. Source: Yonhap News Agency