(LEAD) Gov’t repeats appeal for dialogue with doctors amid prolonged walkout

Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong once again called on doctors Monday to come forward for dialogue to end the prolonged walkout by junior doctors and present a unified proposal regarding the quota for medical school admissions, stressing its firm will to push for medical reform plans. More than 90 percent of South Korea's 13,000 trainee doctors have walked off the job in protest since Feb. 20 in protest of the government's push to increase the number of medical school seats by 2,000 starting next year from the current 3,058. "The government's will for medical reform remains strong. The medical school quota hike and other reform measures are preconditions for reviving essential medical fields and medical systems in rural areas," Cho said during a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters. "Time is running out given the schedule for the government's announcement of detailed plans and requirements for college entrance next year. The medical circle should come up with a unified propo sal swiftly based on scientific grounds," he added. Cho's comments marked the first official stance taken by the government on the matter after a resounding defeat in last week's parliamentary elections. The quota hike plan was a hot-button issue for the elections, and eyes have been on possible changes to the government's stance according to the election outcome. The government has said it is open to talks, though it believes a hike of 2,000 is the minimum as the plan was based on scientific research and discussion with the medical community. President Yoon Suk Yeol met with the chief of a striking trainee doctors' group earlier this month, but no immediate breakthrough has been reported. Doctors have demanded that the government review the issue from the outset, as the planned quota hike would compromise the quality of medical education and services and create a surplus of physicians. They have also urged the government to devise ways of better protecting them from malpractice suits and extending comp ensation to induce more physicians to practice in such "unpopular" areas. On Monday, 1,325 trainee doctors filed a complaint against Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo for alleged abuse of power, and vowed not to return to work unless the government fires him. In response to growing disruptions to hospital operations, the government decided to send more than 2,700 additional physician assistant nurses to hospitals to have them fill in for striking doctors, and will launch training and education programs Thursday. The government has stressed the need to increase the medical school admission quota to address a shortage of doctors. Given South Korea's rapid population aging and other issues, the country is expected to fall short by 15,000 doctors by 2035, according to the health ministry. Source: Yonhap News Agency