(LEAD) Patients’ frustration grows as trainee doctors stay away from hospitals for 2nd day

SEOUL, Patients vented frustration and complaints over delayed or postponed treatment schedules Wednesday as general hospital trainee doctors in Seoul and elsewhere stayed away from their jobs for the second day in protest of the government's plan to hike the medical school enrollment quota. More than 70 percent, or 8,816, general hospital intern and resident doctors have submitted their resignations en masse so far in protest of the reform plan to raise the medical school admission quota by 2,000 seats next year from the current 3,058. Of them, 7,813 did not report for work Wednesday, defying the government's back-to-work order. The departure of junior doctors is fueling concerns of a "healthcare service vacuum," with the operation of surgery rooms slashed to as low as 50 percent capacity at the five biggest general hospitals in Seoul in the aftermath, medical sources said. Surgeries were cut in half at Severance Hospital in central Seoul, with St. Mary's Hospital and Asan Medical Center in southern and eastern Seoul, respectively, reducing their surgery capacities by 30 percent. Medical service disruptions are expected to receive a further blow unless a breakthrough is found at an early stage. On Wednesday, a 38-year-old biliary tract cancer patient, surnamed Kim, checked himself out of Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) to be hospitalized at another medical center at SNUH's recommendation. "My condition needs further medical attention because I have a high fever, but I was recommended to move to another hospital yesterday," said Kim, who underwent cancer surgery at SNUH. "There are many patients who said their surgeries have been canceled. If I were them, I would have been devastated because even a slight delay in treatment can greatly affect the outcome of cancer," Kim said. Jeon Kyu-sik, an epilepsy patient in his 50s, vented his frustration: "About half of the hospital rooms appear to be empty ... It almost amounts to overlooking and leaving a patient who would soon die if not operated on im mediately." A nurse at SNUH's children's hospital informed patients and parents that currently, all services are unavailable in the absence of doctors, and surgeries and other operations would only become available as late as August if the current walkout is prolonged. At Severance Hospital, Kasia, a Polish mother, and her 11-year-old daughter, Aniela, had to wait nearly an hour for a reserved appointment for the daughter's broken arm as hospital services slowed down. "She broke her arm three weeks ago, and we're here for a follow-up checkup with her doctor today. I did read on the news of the doctors' strike, but didn't think we would be affected so badly," the mother said. A woman in her 20s voiced resentment over severely delayed services while waiting in line at Severance's emergency room after her sister's stitched surgery wound reopened. "I don't understand why the government is in a tug-of-war with the medical field," she said. "We don't know who might fall ill when, and even the president could become a patient at any moment. A patient in a serious condition, for whom every second counts, may die unattended on the road," she said. Lee Jong-soo, a 56-year-old liver patient, criticized the doctors' walkout in strong language. "Trainee doctors are doing wrong ... they cannot do this to retain their privilege at a time when the medical school enrollment quota has been kept unchanged for a long time," he said, saying the damage of the walkout directly affects patients and the public. Uhm Hye-seop, 62, who accompanied her father-in-law for his anticancer therapy at Seoul National University Hospital, waited impatiently while staring at the display board that notified patients of an 11-minute delay in the checkup process. "Medical treatment delays are a norm for us," Uhm said, while consistently looking up to see if the name of her father-in-law was listed, cueing that the doctor was finally ready for them. "I'm sure all patients feel the same way. We think there needs to be more doctors at hand." S ource: Yonhap News Agency