South Korean doctors strike in protest of plans to add more physicians

SOUTH KOREA: Surgeries have been delayed and hospitals have turned away patients after more than 1,600 doctors in South Korea went on strike on Tuesday.

The junior doctors are protesting the government’s plans to introduce more trained physicians into the system.

South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios among major economies, so the government wants to add more medical school placements.

But doctors oppose the prospect of greater competition, observers say.

South Korea has a highly privatised healthcare system where most procedures are tied to insurance payments, and more than 90% of hospitals are private.

Its doctors are among the best-paid in the world, with 2022 data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing the average specialist at a public hospital receives nearly $200,000 (£159,000) a year; a salary far exceeding the national average pay.

But there are currently only 2.5 doctors per 1,000 people – the second lowest rate in the OECD group of nations after Mexico.

“More doctors mean more competition and reduced income for them… that is why they are against the proposal to increase physician supply,” said Prof Kwon Soon-man, a public health expert at Seoul National University.

The country has critical physician shortages in remote areas, and in specialities such as paediatrics and obstetrics – which are seen as less lucrative fields compared to practices such as dermatology and plastic surgery.

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