(LEAD) Gov’t rules out discussions on scrapping plan to hike medical school admissions

Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said Monday the government will not hold discussions on potentially scrapping a plan to boost medical school admissions, renewing a pledge to accomplish medical reform despite a fierce protest by doctors. About 12,000 trainee doctors have left their worksites since Feb. 20 in the walkout against the government's push to hike the annual enrollment of medical students by 2,000, forcing major hospitals to cancel or delay surgeries and other public health services. "Medical reform is a must-go path to save essential and local health care systems, although it is hard and difficult," Cho told a government response meeting. Discussions on potentially abandoning the plan or deterring it by one year "do not meet the people's view," Cho said, calling for doctors to come up with a "unified proposal based on scientific grounds." Last week, the government said it has accepted a request from the chiefs of six national universities for flexibility in expanding the medical school enrollment quota in a decision that raised hopes for an end to the protracted walkout by trainee doctors. Under the decision that is largely considered a compromise, local universities will be permitted to increase their admission quotas freely, with the range of the annual increase ranging between 50 percent and 100 percent. "We hope that the medical community openly acknowledges the government's efforts to accept the suggestion from the chiefs of national universities, to find solutions to the conflict," Cho said, urging doctors on the walkout to return to their hospitals. Cho added the government will continue to roll out the medical reform without stopping, although it will be open to "reasonable" opinions. The health minister also called on local doctors' organizations to join a special presidential committee on medical reform, set to launch this week, as the Korea Medical Association and the Korea Intern Resident Association vowed to boycott the initiative. In support of junior doctors' walkout, medical profe ssors submitted their resignations last month. Some media reports said their resignations may take effect on Thursday. However, Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told reporters that their resignations have not been scheduled to be accepted so far. "As far as education authorities are aware, there are currently no resignations filed by medical professors that are scheduled to be processed," Park said. Park added that the process to increase the number of medical school students will be completed by the end of this month as universities finalize their admission plans for the next academic year, urging doctors to present a unified and reasonable proposal "before it is too late." Source: Yonhap News Agency