Emergency rooms at major hospitals feel heat as medical professors cut working hours

April 1, 2024

Some emergency departments at major hospitals turned away patients or reduced procedures Monday as medical professors began cutting their working hours to cope with growing fatigue caused by a protracted walkout by junior doctors.

The professors, who are senior doctors at major hospitals, had said cutting back their working hours is inevitable because they must focus on treating seriously ill and emergency patients while scaling back surgeries and services for outpatients.

According to the state-run National Emergency Medical Center, the emergency department at Asan Medical Center, one of five major general hospitals in Seoul, notified that it is unable to treat stroke patients.

Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital, another major hospital in Seoul, announced that its emergency room is unable to accommodate non-critical patients.

About 12,000 trainee doctors have been on strike in the form of mass resignations since Feb. 20, with medical professors having submitted resignations in support of the walkout.

The Korean Medical Association, the biggest doctors’ group, also said community doctors will start to work 40 hours per week in treating patients, although it remains uncertain how many community doctors would join the labor action.

“I’m concerned about the possibility of clinics reducing appointment availability, considering that both my child and I often need medical attention on weekends, as I work on weekdays,” a mother of a two-year-old child told Yonhap News Agency.

Amid little sign of a breakthrough in the standoff between the government and the medical community, President Yoon Suk Yeol called on doctors to come up with a “unified proposal” on an appropriate increase in medical school admissions, saying the government will be open to talks though it believes a hike of 2,000 is the minimum.