Time for fundamental solutionsThe Moon Jae-in administration and the medical community have barely avoided a head-on collision at the last minute. Over the weekends, the government agreed to stop its push for four controversial proposals — including the establishment of a public medical school and increases in the quota for medical students — while doctors decided to return to hospitals after a weeks-long strike. We welcome the latest developments to prevent the worst-possible situation amid the Covid-19 crisis. And yet, both sides must take responsibility.
First of all, the Moon administration must apologize for deepening public concern after pressing ahead with the four controversial reforms without any discussion with medical professionals. Many people wondered why the government pushed for such explosive policies at such a critical moment. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo must bear primary responsibility for that.
Medical professionals are no exception. Despite their freedom to oppose government policies, they should apologize for taking patients hostage even after a second spike in Covid-19 cases. Their refusal of medical treatments while the virus rages on constitutes an abandonment of their social obligations.
The agreements on both sides are very volatile. While the liberals — mostly from progressive civic groups — denounced the government for failing to improve our public health sector by surrendering to the “selfish interest group,” the mainstream medical community lambasted Korea Medical Association (KMA) President Choi Dae-zip — the representative of the medical community in the negotiations with the government — for a “half-baked deal” he struck on their behalf.
It is regrettable that both camps are still stuck with their own ideology. They must accept the realistic need to address their sharp differences amid the Covid-19 crisis — particularly the need to avert the collapse of our medical system as a result of doctors’ walkouts. Both sides must listen to the warnings that Covid-19 will pose a serious health challenge to our society when it is coupled with a seasonal flu.
Since the enactment of the Public Health Law in 2000, the Health and Welfare Ministry should have drawn up detailed plans to enhance our public health systems every five years. But it didn’t. After abandoning the job for 20 years, the ministry rushed to push the four plans and fueled conflict with doctors. It is the time for the government and medical community to establish a consultative body in accordance with the agreement.
Both sides must discuss and find rational ways to tackle challenges that surfaced during the strike. We hope they hammer out solutions on a whole range of issues. This is not the time for fighting.