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SNU profs to suspend treatment for one day

April 24, 2024 - 15:50 By Park Jun-hee
Bang Jae-seung (left), the head of the emergency response committee of medical professors at Seoul National University and Seoul National University Hospital, and Bae Woo-kyung, who heads the emergency committee’s public relations council, bow after giving their statements during a press conference held at SNU in Jongno-gu, central Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Amid an intensifying standoff between doctors and the government, professors at Seoul National University Hospital, said Wednesday they would suspend treatments for one day on April 30, with some in leadership roles saying they would resign on May 1.

Stressing that the decision was made as a last resort, the professors said they also needed time off to recover from months of filling in for junior doctors who walked out to protest plans to expand medical schools. They said they would inform their patients shortly.

The emergency committee will decide whether to schedule other days off at a later time.

However, emergency rooms and intensive care units will remain in operation as will the treatment of severely ill hospitalized patients, according to the emergency committee of medical professors at the Seoul National University College of Medicine and Seoul National University Hospital.

The emergency committee of professors at Sungkyunkwan University on the same day recommended that medical professors at SKKU who have worked over 52 hours a week to take a day off the following week, but only on a day on which they have no outpatient treatment or scheduled surgeries.

Professors and their peers at Yonsei University and the Catholic University were also mulling whether to close their practices next week depending on each hospital’s situation, according to reports citing health authorities.

The pediatric emergency room at Pusan National University Hospital will also reduce night service on Mondays and Tuesdays starting on May 6. Currently, the service runs from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next day.

Medical professors at the University of Ulsan College of Medicine announced Tuesday that they would take a day off every week starting on May 3.

An official at the Catholic University of Korea Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital told The Korea Herald that no resignations have been submitted to the hospital nor had notices of suspending treatment been announced to patients, unlike the situation with SNUH. The official added that the hospital has yet to come up with special measures to deal with their absence.

Apologizing to patients affected by the decision, Bang Jae-seung, who heads the emergency response committee of SNU and SNUH, said medical professors had “no choice but to (prioritize saving) the crippling health care system over saving a few patients.”

“The orchestra continued to play as the Titanic sank (in the movie). But was the orchestra able to save (the passengers)? That’s how we feel right now (because) there’s no reason to stay aboard a sinking ship,” Bang told reporters in a press conference held at SNU.

“As professors, (we) are only barely maintaining patient care out of our duties to also provide education (to students) and (do) research. What’s the point of staying as a professor if I can’t even fully provide medical treatment (to patients)?” Bang explained.

He noted that SNU medical professors voluntarily began submitting their resignations starting March 25, claiming that resignations take legal effect after a month, even without approval from their institution.

Four committee executives who all belong to essential medical fields will resign “for sure,” and more professors will likely follow suit depending on their situation, according to Bang.

Asked if their resignations were to be held back by the government, Bae Woo-Kyung, the chief of the emergency committee’s public relations council, said professors would take the issue to court and argue against it.

“If the resignations are not accepted, I guess (we) will be disciplined for unauthorized absence from work,” Woo added.

In addition, SNU medical professors said they would directly solicit research to set the appropriate increase in the medical school enrollment quota based on scientific and rational grounds after the government requested such from the medical community, demanding that the expansion plan for next year be suspended.

“It takes about eight to 12 months to gather information. (We ask the government) to reflect the changes in the quota for the 2026 school year based on the research and stop the procedure for 2025,” Bang said, stressing that junior doctors and medical students won’t return without the change.

The Korean Medical Association’s emergency committee agreed with the request, saying that the quota hike should be decided based on research results and discussions.

Following the announcement, the Health Ministry said that it would be impossible to accept the doctors’ request to scrap the expansion plan for 2025, given that the college admissions season is nearing.

The government also expressed its deep regret against the professors’ decision to resign as scheduled, urging them to stay by their patients’ sides.

“(Please) refrain from engaging in collective action and come to the table for discussions, as well as listen to the demands and pleas of the people, patients and different sectors of society that are hoping for an end to the stalemate,” Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told reporters during Wednesday’s briefing.

“I don’t understand what it means to resign when a resignation hasn’t been processed. There won’t be many irresponsible medical professors,” Park said.