South Korea empowers nurses as doctors’ strike continues

SEOUL   -   South Korea granted nurses new powers and legal protections Tuesday, and launched an investigation into a patient’s death, as hospital chaos caused by striking trainee doctors entered a second week. Major hospitals are struggling to provide services after thousands of junior medics handed in their resignations and stopped working last week to protest against government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions in the face of a rapidly ageing society. The government said Tuesday it has launched an investigation after a patient died of a cardiac arrest in an ambulance after struggling to find a hospital. Emergency services contacted seven different hospitals but “were told there were no trainee doctors”, the daily JoongAng Ilbo reported. “The government is conducting an on-site probe with related agencies into the death,” Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said. The government has set a Thursday ultimatum for doctors to return to work, saying that legal action -- including prosecution and the suspension of medical licences -- will be taken against those who refuse. The ministry also requested on Tuesday that police launch a probe into people connected to the strike, including five linked to the Korean Medical Association. The mass work stoppage has resulted in cancellations and postponements of surgeries for cancer patients and C-sections for pregnant women, with the government raising its public health alert to the highest level.

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