Physicians’ collective action is already common in the world, and people should not regard it as unethical behavior, local researchers said.
Research fellows Oh Young-in and Park Jeong-hoon at the Korean Medical Association’s Medical Policy Research Institute made this and other points in a contribution article published in the “Quarterly Medical Policy Forum.”
“Korean doctors started to act collectively in 2000 to protest the government’s wrong policy to separate prescription and dispensing of drugs,” the researchers said. “At that time, the media, civic groups, and the government called it ‘unprecedented medical service disturbance’ and regarded the group acts as the most inhumane and immoral one in the history of the world’s medicine.”
|Korean doctors held a nationwide rally in Yeoui-do, Seoul, on Dec. 15, 2013.|
However, doctors’ collective actions -- to protest excessive control on medicine or distorted medical policy -- happen not only in Korea but in many countries, they said. “As each country has different circumstances, policies, and systems for doctors, they have all the different causes and results of strikes,” the researchers added.
According to Oh and Park, doctors’ group actions were recorded in documents in 272 cases in 68 countries. In Zimbabwe, physicians have taken a group action in September.
Major reasons for doctors’ collective actions include improvement in working conditions, such as revising the medical care system, adjusting working hours and wages, improving reimbursement payment, increasing the workforce, and supporting medical research.
One of the representative cases overseas occurred in Germany. Marburger Bund (MB), a labor union of doctors, took actions to demand a wage increase and working condition improvement in January, March, June, July, and August in 2006. On Jan. 18, 2006, more than 10,000 German doctors gathered in Berlin for the “Day of Doctors,” and half of the medical institutions closed that day nationwide.
In 2016, medical residents in the U.K. took a collective action to oppose the National Health Service’s new conservative policy, which forced them to work during the weekend without extra rewards.
Young doctors and the medical community staged an aggressive campaign on social networking sites and held a rally. The doctors went on a strike on Jan. 12, 2016, protesting the government’s inaction. Again on Feb. 10, a strike occurred, and doctors refused to see urgent patients on April 26.
Oh and Park emphasized that unlike a strike by ordinary workers, most doctors do not refuse to see urgent patients.
“Doctors normally offer proposals in the initial stage and stop participating in related committee’s meetings. And then, they may intensify the protest by refusing to provide medical service for outpatients or skip surgeries,” the researchers said. “However, in most cases, they normally provide emergency medical service even in group action. This is to minimize damages to the public by providing essential and urgent medical service.”
They also argued that as doctors contribute to society more than any other group, it is not desirable to overemphasize their social responsibility.
“The government is imposing full responsibility on doctors for rising medical costs and problems with the healthcare system. Because of this, physicians are becoming the victims of the rising national healthcare service cost,” the researchers said.
“If the government truly aims to secure people’s rights to health, they should make an environment where the economics does not sacrifice doctors and provide the best care on the belief that the patient’s health comes first, even if there is some sacrifice due to changes in the system,” they added.