South Korean President Yoon Meets Leader of Doctor's Strike but Fails to Strike a Deal

The prolonged walkout by thousands of trainee doctors across the nation is placing growing pressure on South Korea's healthcare system.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol held talks with the leader of a strike led by thousands of junior doctors on Thursday, expressing disagreement over the government's proposal to substantially increase medical school admissions. However, no immediate breakthrough was reported following the meeting, as per a report by The Associated Press.

Yoon's office reported that his first face-to-face discussions lasted over two hours after he showed the first signs of flexibility in an approach previously described by a hardline stance, especially as crucial parliamentary elections approach next week. In February, more than 90 percent of the nation's 13,000 trainee doctors staged a major walkout, disrupting hospital operations across the nation.

No Solution Yet

Yoon Suk Yeol
Yoon Suk Yeol X

The negotiator, Park Dan, wrote on his Facebook page that "there is no future for medical care in Korea" following the meeting at which Yoon's office said that the two discussed ways to improve the physicians' pay and working conditions.

It wasn't immediately clear which aspect of the talks Park was addressing.

The prolonged walkout by thousands of trainee doctors across the nation is placing growing pressure on South Korea's healthcare system, leading hospitals to reject patients and reduce non-emergency surgeries.

Park, the leader of the Korean Intern Resident Association, accepted Yoon's invitation to meet and conveyed the perspectives of his colleagues, Yoon's office said in its concise statement.

The office further noted that Yoon would acknowledge the stance of the trainee doctors in upcoming discussions with the medical community regarding healthcare reform, which includes an increase in physician numbers.

Yoon's Elaborate Plans

South Korea doctors
More than 90 percent of the South Korea's 3,000 trainee doctors staged a major walkout in February (Representational purpose only) X

The focal point of Yoon's contentious plan is to increase medical school admissions and the number of doctors in a swiftly aging society. However, many are more concerned about securing improved working conditions and legal protection instead.

The government has warned that without action, South Korea could face a shortfall of 15,000 doctors necessary to sustain essential services.

Yoon previously said that his proposal to increase the number of new medical students to 5,000 annually from the current 3,000 is not open for discussion. However, he indicated on Monday that there might be potential for adjustment if the medical community presents reasonable proposals.

Practicing physicians and medical school educators in South Korea have demanded that Yoon abandon his reform plans.

Although a significant majority of the public supports the essence of Yoon's plan, a poll on Monday revealed that more people are dissatisfied with the way his government has managed the impasse.

South Koreans are scheduled to vote on April 10 to elect a 300-member parliament, and Yoon's conservative People Power Party is confronted with a challenging task of regaining a majority currently held by the opposition.