Court Rejects South Korean Doctors’ Request on Med School Quota

(Bloomberg) -- A South Korean court rejected a request brought by doctors to suspend a government plan to increase the number of medical school seats, which sparked a walkout by physicians that has strained the health care system.

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The Seoul High Court in a statement on Thursday said it upheld a lower court’s ruling and turned down the injunction request. This paved the way for the government to push ahead with the quota increase for next year. A lower court had dismissed the request, saying the plaintiffs did not qualify as a directly involved party to file the case.

The ruling will likely be welcomed by the administration of President Yoon Suk Yeol, which has staked a great deal of political capital on its plan to add 2,000 seats a year at medical schools from the current 3,058. It has said the increase is the first in nearly three decades and needed to elevate the quality of medical services for the country’s rapidly aging population.

It was not immediately clear if the doctors would appeal the ruling. The Korean Medical Association, which represents about 15,000 doctors, did not immediately comment.

Doctors contend such an abrupt increase won’t fix fundamental problems including a concentration of medical professionals in urban areas and a shortage of physicians in fields seen as lower paying. The walkout is set to enter its fourth month next week as doctors refuse to return to work unless the government scraps the plan.

Most of the country’s trainee doctors, who play key roles in emergency care and surgeries, have been off the job since February. South Korea has so far averted a major disruption to its health-care system, in part as medical professors who also dispense care, have been holding down the fort.

But concerns have been growing over fatigue for those providing care while people have been putting up with delays in treatment. The government has provided money for support and opened up some facilities at military hospitals to the public.

Polling shows backing for the increase of medical school students but the number has been slipping as people want to see an end to the prolonged dispute. Yoon has said he would not back down on the plan, calling it a task “that cannot be pushed back.”

“We are deeply grateful for the court’s wise decision,” Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said, urging doctors to return to work and engage in dialogue with the government.

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