More than half of South Koreans support the government’s plan to increase the number of doctors, while 9 in 10 doctors oppose it, a survey showed Tuesday, amid escalating tensions between the government and doctors.
The government laid out a plan to boost the number of medical students by 4,000 over 10 years starting in 2022, and to open a new public medical school as part of efforts to expand access to health care services.
But this drew strong opposition from doctors, who say the country already has a sufficient number of doctors and the government’s plan fails to address the fundamental problems facing the medical sector.
According to a survey conducted Aug. 11-25 on 69,899 members of the public by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, 56.5 percent of the respondents approved of the government’s plan.
Among private practice physicians and medical students, interns and residents, only 8.5 percent supported the plan. When asked to specify a reason, 41.5 percent said there were enough doctors and the problems were a geographical imbalance in the supply of doctors and a shortage of doctors in certain sectors.
To secure sufficient numbers of doctors, some 55 percent of all the respondents said establishing new public medical schools in underserved regions was an answer, while 51.2 percent of the respondents working in the medical industry said admission quotas at existing medical schools should be expanded.
When asked what was the biggest problem in the country’s medical system, 44.1 percent said it was a regional imbalance in medical services. Others pointed to a shortage of doctors in certain sectors (39.9 percent), and others blamed the health insurance program (36.2 percent).
To tackle the regional imbalance in health care services, 46.4 percent of the surveyed said more public medical institutions should be built in underserved regions. To remedy the lack of doctors in certain sectors, 51.5 percent said the health insurance program should be fixed.
Thousands of medical interns and resident trainee doctors have been on strike since Aug. 21, urging the government to scrap the policy all together. Some 84 percent of interns and resident doctors and 32.6 percent of fellows joined the strike as of Monday, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
As the country grapples with a rise in COVID-19 cases, the government on Tuesday reiterated its call for striking doctors to end their walkout, saying the plan to increase admission quotas has been unconditionally put on hold.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)