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South Korea boosts role of nurses in healthcare amid doctor’s strike

South Korea boosts role of nurses in healthcare amid doctor’s strike

South Korea boosts role of nurses in healthcare amid doctor’s strike

South Korea boosts role of nurses in healthcare amid doctor’s strike

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  • South Korea grants nurses new powers and legal protections and initiates an investigation into a patient’s death.
  • The government issued an ultimatum for doctors to return to work, stating it would take legal action against those who refuse.
  • Delays in chemotherapy and surgeries are occurring in all university hospitals near the Seoul metropolitan area.
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On Tuesday, South Korea granted nurses new powers and legal protections and initiated an investigation into a patient’s death as hospital chaos, caused by striking trainee doctors, entered a second week. Major hospitals are grappling with service provision as thousands of junior medics submitted their resignations and ceased work last week to protest government plans to significantly increase medical school admissions in response to a rapidly aging society.

On Tuesday, the government announced its intention to launch an investigation after a patient died of cardiac arrest in an ambulance while struggling to find a hospital. According to the daily JoongAng Ilbo, emergency services reached out to seven different hospitals but were informed that no trainee doctors were available.

“The government is conducting an on-site probe with related agencies into the death,” Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said.

The mass work stoppage has also led to cancellations and postponements of surgeries for cancer patients and C-sections for pregnant women, prompting the government to raise its public health alert to the highest level.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo announced that nurses would now perform some medical procedures previously reserved for doctors and would be granted immunity from any potential lawsuits associated with their expanded scope of work.

“This pilot program will legally protect the nurses who are filling the medical vacuum created by trainee doctors’ walkouts at hospitals,” Park said.

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The government stated the necessity of protecting nurses due to existing “grey areas” regarding which medical treatments could be performed by which staff, especially as nurses were “shouldering the workload” during the strike. Each hospital administration can collaborate with nurses to determine which tasks they can perform.

The government issued a Thursday request for doctors to return to work, stating that it would take legal action — including prosecution and the suspension of medical licenses — against those who refuse.

“We urge the trainee doctors to return to medical fields as soon as possible,” Park said.

Kim Sung-ju, the head of the Korean Cancer Patients’ Rights Council, reported that delays in chemotherapy and surgeries were occurring in all university hospitals near the Seoul metropolitan area.

“We will thoroughly investigate all potential legal grounds and hold those responsible accountable if those with severe illnesses suffer severe damage,” Kim said.

South Korean law restricts doctors from participating in strikes, but the medics have stated they have no option but to stop working to demonstrate their fierce opposition to the government’s plan.

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