Gov't warns of legal action against doctors' strike

SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- The government on Saturday vowed to take legal action against medical doctors if they go ahead with their plan to stage what it called an "illegal" strike against its move to deregulate medical services.

"A strike that will take the life of patients and health of the people as a hostage cannot be allowed under any circumstances, and it will never win public approval," the Ministry of Health and Welfare said in a statement.

The statement came as some 500 members of the Korean Medical Association held a rally in Seoul ahead of their plan to launch a nationwide walkout. The association said it has yet to decide when to launch the strike.

The government-proposed deregulation of medical services mainly seeks to allow medical institutes and organizations, including large hospitals, to do non-medical business, which the government claims will help improve the overall profitability of medical institutes, and thus encouraging them to improve their medical services.

The proposed deregulation, among other things, will require medical institutes that engage in non-medical businesses to invest at least 80 percent of their profits from non-medical business in their medical business.

Medical doctors claim that the government move will eventually lead to the privatization or commercialization of medical services.

They also claim that such medical organizations engaged in producing or selling medical equipment will naturally use their own equipment at their institutes, which in turn may reduce the number of available treatment for patients while driving up their expenses.

The government rejects the claim, saying the proposed deregulation would rather improve the overall quality of medical services while also enhancing public convenience and creating new jobs.

"If the medical sector does go on an illegal strike despite such government efforts, the government plans to take stern measures against them under related laws to protect the people's right to health and welfare," the ministry said.

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