The Korean Medical Association (KMA), a trade union representing doctors in South Korea, has confirmed that its members would go on a strike next week to challenge the government’s healthcare reform plans. 

The strike is scheduled to take place on 18 June.  

This decision comes after 74% of participating members of the association voted in favour of a ‘collective action’, Reuters reported.  

KMA, which claims to represent the nation’s 140,000 doctors, has voiced concerns that the government’s reforms would undermine South Korea’s medical system and fail to address the persistent issues of understaffing in key disciplines and insufficient compensation. 

Reuters quoted KMA president Lim Hyun-taek as saying during a meeting attended by representatives of various medical groups: “With the support of representatives throughout the country, the KMA will stand at the forefront of the fight to rescue the medical system.” 

The association has declared that its members will cease work on 18 June, with plans for a mass rally to follow.  

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The core of the dispute lies in the government’s proposal to raise the number of new medical students by 2,000, from the existing 3,000, as part of its healthcare reform strategy. 

This move escalates the ongoing tensions within the country’s healthcare sector, which previously saw significant disruptions when trainee doctors walked out in protest against the government’s decision.  

In February 2024, thousands of trainee doctors in South Korea, including interns and residents, staged a walkout, leading to a scale-back of non-emergency services and the turning away of patients in emergency rooms. 

Despite the protests, the government went ahead with its plan, adding approximately 1,500 seats, marking the first admission increase in 27 years. 

Before the latest KMA announcement, South Korean officials reportedly urged the association not to proceed with actions that could endanger public safety and tarnish the medical profession’s reputation. 

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo has labelled any collective action by doctors as illegal and deeply regrettable, emphasising the need for dialogue to resolve the impasse.  

In a news conference, Han said: “The social trust that the medical community and patients have built over many decades must not be left to collapse because of radical demands by a few people.”