Pregnant women had C-sections cancelled and cancer treatments were postponed on Wednesday as the number of South Korean trainee doctors to walk off the job over proposed reforms swelled, officials and local reports said. More than 8,800 junior doctors – 71 per cent of the trainee workforce – have now quit, said Seoul’s Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo, part of a spiralling protest against government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions.

Seoul says the reforms are essential, citing the country’s low doctor numbers and rapidly ageing population, but doctors claim the changes will hurt service provision and education quality. Critics say doctors are mainly concerned the reform could erode their salaries and social prestige, and the plan enjoys broad public support among South Koreans, many of whom are fed up with long wait times for many medical services.

Park said on Wednesday that 7,813 trainee doctors had not shown up for work – an almost five-fold increase from the first day of the action on Monday – despite the government ordering many of them to return to their hospitals. “The basic calling of medical professionals is to protect the health and lives of the people, and any group action that threatens this cannot be justified,” Park said. The doctors’ walkout was a violation of South Korean law, as medical workers cannot refuse so-called return to work orders “without justifiable grounds”, he said.


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