South Korea doctors strike: Seoul drops plan to suspend licences

South Korea doctors strike: Seoul drops plan to suspend licences

Thousands of them walked out of job in February over plan to increase medical school admissions

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SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Monday it would drop a plan to suspend the licences of striking trainee doctors, offering a concession to end a months-long walkout prompted by the government's decision to increase medical school admissions.

Thousands of trainee doctors, which include medical interns and resident doctors, walked off the job in February, forcing major hospitals to cut back non-emergency services and turn back patients at emergency rooms.

Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said the government had decided not to suspend the licences of the striking doctors, whether they return to work or not.

Cho said the decision to drop its threat of punitive action was necessary because ending the current shortage in medical services is "more urgent".

Two-thirds of the country's residents and intern doctors have walked off the job to protest a plan to raise the number of students admitted to medical school each year by 2,000 in a bid to address what the government says is doctors’ shortage.

The young doctors who are protesting say the government should first address pay and working conditions before trying to increase the number of physicians.

Cho added that the government would build a "sustainable" medical system that does not rely on excessive work by trainee doctors.

"Trainee doctors, do not hesitate any longer, and take out courage to decide. The government will make sure you, our precious resources who have chosen essential medical care even under difficult circumstances, can focus on training without worry," Cho said at a briefing.

The minister also called on the trainee doctors to return and join dialogue to discuss their working conditions as well as the medical college admission quota for 2026 and beyond.