KMA must retract threatThe timetable for a nationwide walkout by clinic and hospital physicians raises serious concerns about social repercussions and public health risks. The Korean Medical Association said its members will go on strike for six days starting March 24. They include many physicians who staff essential hospital departments, intensive care units and emergency rooms.
Emergency rooms treat people in life-and-death situations, and intensive care units are filled with patients who require around-the-clock monitoring and care. Yet the doctors who are in charge of saving patients’ lives are saying they will walk away. What they are threatening is unbelievable. Yet the KMA declared in a statement that it will stop emergency and intensive care services during the general strike period.
Doctors have gone on strike before. But never have they threatened to close down emergency and critical care units. Even when they went on a six-day strike in 2000 to oppose changes in drug prescriptions and sales, operations at the two essential units were unaffected. They defended their primary doctors’ oath and duty not to desert their patients under any circumstances.
The KMA said it will adhere to the legally required working hours from March 11 to 23. Resident physicians and practitioners will work only eight hours a day. We worry about a vacuum of resident presence in emergency and critical care wards if these doctors are present just eight hours a day. These crucial units cannot be sustained without the assistance of resident practitioners helping out specialists.
Health insurance fees briefly jumped after the 2000 strike by doctors, but they have since plateaued. Strikes do not necessarily result in higher medical costs. Instead, the threatened walkout by doctors could seriously undermine public confidence in medical practitioners. It took years for doctors and hospitals to regain the confidence of both patients and society at large. They lose more than they gain by using their duties to patients as bargaining chips. Abandoning emergency and intensive care units is unjustifiable, no matter what. Some of the doctors already are protesting the extreme move.
The KMA must withdraw its threat immediately and apologize.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 5, Page 30