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Med school expansion needed to tackle ER shortage: ministry

By Park Jun-hee

Published : May 29, 2024 - 14:19

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Paramedics transport a patient to a hospital in Seoul on May 23 (Yonhap) Paramedics transport a patient to a hospital in Seoul on May 23 (Yonhap)

A total of 3,752 patients have died between 2017 and 2023 after emergency rooms refused to admit them due to lack of doctors, the Health Ministry said Wednesday, stressing the need for medical school expansion to address the shortage of doctors in ER.

Kang Joon, who heads the health care reform task force at the Health Ministry, said that most of the patients had died because there were no doctors who could treat them, adding that the country's critical care is in "extreme trouble."

"South Korea's health care system has reached the global standards in terms of the quality and accessibility (it provides). However, essential medical services in rural areas are hanging by a thread," Kang said during a forum held by the emergency committee of medical professors at Seoul National University and Seoul National University Hospital.

"The discussions on medical reform have ended up being a feast of words due to conflicts (between the government and the medical circle) for over 20 years, and it can't be postponed anymore," Kang stressed.

He added that the quota hike was also necessary to tackle regional disparities and broaden the reach of medical services to the public.

The Korean government will have its first medical school quota hike in 27 years for the 2025 academic year since a medical school was established at Jeju University. The limit has been capped at 3,058 students per year since 2006, down from 3,507, to assuage doctors protesting the policy of separating the prescribing and dispensing of drugs at the time.

But over those times, countries like France raised their medical school enrollment quota from 3,850 in 2000 to around 10,000 in 2020, while Japan increased the number of spaces in medical schools from 7,630 to 9,330, according to the ministry.

Kang underscored that now is the "opportune moment" and the "last chance to achieve medical reform," renewing the government's commitment to accomplish health care reform policies despite continued backlash from the medical community.

"Now is the time for the government, the medical circle and the people to unite to normalize Korea's medical system," he said.