Patients deplore absence of medical options, voice fears as doctors’ walkout nears 2 mths

Patients with cancer or other serious diseases voiced frustrations and fears Thursday over their dwindling medical options as the trainee doctors' collective walkout approaches its two-month mark. With the government not budging on its decision to add 2,000 more medical school admissions starting next year, the walkout by protesting intern and resident doctors shows no signs of subsiding. More than 90 percent of South Korea's 13,000 trainee doctors have walked off their duties at general hospitals since Feb. 20 in protest of the drastic quota hike. The government and doctors remain far apart on how to tackle the situation, with many doctors objecting to the government and politicians' proposal of forming a special consultative body for negotiations. Patients with a cancer diagnosis or other serious illnesses have been hit hardest by the prolongation of the government-medical confrontation. A woman in her 40s found herself unable to reserve surgery at Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, the neares t general university hospital to her home, after she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer at a neighborhood hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul. She managed to schedule an appointment with a doctor at another smaller hospital in the area, but she was informed that although she can see a doctor immediately, any surgery may be delayed. "I am very nervous about whether this surgery and treatment schedule, which I barely managed to secure, will be suddenly postponed due to the current situation," she said. "I need to begin treatment before my disease worsens." Another breast cancer patient in her 30s is awaiting surgery at a general university hospital in the southeastern port city of Busan late next month after all her attempts to reserve surgery at a general hospital in Seoul failed. "I've been waiting for surgery for four months now, and I cannot live my normal life because I am so worried about whether the size of my tumor has gotten bigger and spread to other organs," she said. A 53-year-old cereb ral aneurysm patient in the central city of Nonsan, surnamed Kim, had to mobilize all his connections to secure urgent surgery at a far-off hospital in Gyeonggi Province, as he was unable to find any hospitals available near his home. "I had been checking news every day, believing trainee doctors would finally return to work after the general elections terminate," he said in frustration. "Watching the government only repeating the same lines and trainee doctors demanding reduction of their military service duties, I think both of them have gone way too far," he said. Experts and civic groups warn that further protraction of the medical vacuum could turn the situation disastrous and called for a compromise from both the government and the medical community. Yoon Seok-joon, a preventive medicine professor at Korea University, said given the timetable of the programs for trainee doctors, if the situation continues after April, trainee doctors are even less likely to return to work. "If no agreement is made by late April or early May, the situation may further prolong to over a year and cause a disaster that goes beyond a medical vacuum," he said, urging the government to suspend or reconsider the quota hike plan. Jeong Un-yong, a branch head of an activist doctors' group, pointed out that the government has lost part of its momentum for medical reform due to the ruling party's crushing defeat in the recent parliamentary elections. "It may be an appropriate approach if a consultative body is established, which brings together civic society and the National Assembly, as well as the government and doctors," he said. Source: Yonhap News Agency