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Legal Protections Extended to South Korean Nurses Amid Doctors’ Strike

Despite invitations for dialogue, the striking doctors and the government are yet to engage in talks.

In response to the ongoing strike of trainee doctors, South Korean health authorities have granted legal protection to nurses, allowing them to perform certain medical procedures typically conducted by doctors. 

Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong announced this move on Tuesday as part of efforts to alleviate the strain on hospital staff caused by the doctors’ strike.

Nurses, facing increased legal risks and a heavier workload since the trainee doctors walked off the job last week, will now have a defined legal framework for performing procedures within medical institutions. 

The specific scope of their responsibilities will be determined by individual hospitals.

The strike by more than two-thirds of the country’s resident and intern doctors has led to disruptions in major hospitals. 

Emergency rooms have turned away patients, and surgeries and procedures have been canceled or postponed. 

The government’s attempt to address a shortage of doctors by increasing medical school admissions has been met with resistance from protesting doctors.

 Cho emphasized that the government’s program aims to protect nurses legally and mitigate the impact of the doctors’ strike on essential medical services. 

Despite invitations for dialogue, the striking doctors and the government are yet to engage in talks.

While senior doctors and private practitioners have not joined the walkout, they have rallied against the government’s plan, urging its reconsideration. 

Cho urged the more than 9,000 young doctors participating in the strike to return to work by February 29, warning of potential penalties, including license suspension and prosecution.

The protesting doctors argue that the government should address issues of pay and working conditions before attempting to increase the physician workforce. 

In response, the government has proposed a comprehensive package of policy plans to enhance medical services, including an increase in medical school admissions, legal protection against malpractice suits, and incentives for doctors to practice in essential disciplines and underserved regions.

The health minister highlighted the government’s commitment to legislate legal protection for doctors, a measure described as unique and aimed at expediting compensation for patients in case of injuries during medical procedures, allowing doctors to focus on their work without undue legal hurdles.

Chioma Kalu

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