Thousands of doctors in Korea staged their first strike in 14 years to protest the government’s push to introduce telemedicine and for-profit subsidiaries for hospitals

Doctors defy South Korean President’s warning

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014 – 09:27

Lee Hyun-jeong

The Korea Herald/Asia News Network

SEOUL – Concerns about the country’s health services are growing as doctors plan to launch further industrial action later this month, despite stern warnings from the government.

On Monday, thousands of doctors staged their first strike in 14 years to protest the government’s push to introduce telemedicine and for-profit subsidiaries for hospitals.

President Park Geun-hye warned against doctors joining the nationwide strike, saying their actions were unacceptable and put lives in danger.

The Korean Medical Association, the group of doctors that led the strike on Monday, is planning to launch its second protest on March 24 for six consecutive days. The second strike may have a more serious impact than the first, as staff from emergency rooms and intensive care units centre will join the move. Doctors working in emergency rooms and intensive care units were excluded from Monday’s strike.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare estimated that about 6,000 clinics nationwide, or 21 per cent of the total, joined the strike on Monday. The Korean Medical Association gave a higher estimate.

Nearly 50 per cent of the country’s local clinics halted their operations, it said, adding that more than 7,100 medical residents also took part in the strike. About 17,000 medical residents work at 230 hospitals across the nation.

Until the second wave of industrial action begins, doctors said they would limit medical consultations to 15 minutes per patient. Medical residents will wear black ribbons on their gowns to protest against the state’s new medical plans

With doctors vowing to stage the strike, the government said it would take administrative measures against clinics that halted their operations. Doctors may face suspensions of up to 15 days.

The doctors claim that telemedicine, which allows doctors to use communications technology to help treat patients in remote areas, will only benefit large hospitals and damage the businesses of neighborhood doctors. They also argue that government plans to allow hospitals to own for-profit subsidiaries will accelerate the privatization of the medical sector.

The government’s new medical plans are partly designed to address the low medical fees that doctors receive for providing treatment.

Under the Korean medical system, most treatment and surgery fees are determined by the state. Doctors claim that these fees are unrealistically low and have caused them financial difficulties, but they have failed to win public support for an increase, as their profession has traditionally been regarded as well-paid, and the low costs benefit patients.

Ahead of the scheduled second strike later this month, the KMA will press the government to return to negotiating table.

KMA president Roh Hwan-kyu urged the Health Ministry to hold talks and accept their demands. The government, however, refused to talk, saying the doctors’ actions were illegal and unjustified.

Lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Party expressed concerns Tuesday over the second strike, but promised to play an active role in mediating with the government.

“We are planning to suggest that the ruling party and the government to form a countermeasure committee for medical issues in the parliament’s welfare committee. Let us find a solution together with the government, the KMA and lawmakers,” DP Rep. Rhee Mok-hee said in a meeting with the chief of the KMA.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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