Frustrated South Koreans Blame President in Standoff With Doctors

Eun Sung injured her right thumb in a fall in March and needed surgery to fix a torn ligament. But scheduling one has been difficult even though she lives in one of the most developed nations in the world, South Korea.

“It was so hard to get an appointment, and I was told the earliest available operation would be next January,” said Ms. Sung, an office worker in Seoul, the capital. The one consolation, she said, was that she did not need surgery urgently.

For more than two months, South Korea’s health care system has been in disarray because thousands of doctors walked off the job after the government proposed to drastically increase medical school admissions. While the disruptions have not yet reached crisis levels, thousands of operations and treatments have been delayed or canceled, nurses have had to take on more responsibilities, and military hospitals have been opened to civilians. Several major hospitals this week are planning to suspend outpatient clinics.

The protracted stalemate shows no signs of resolution. But one thing has changed: Public opinion has turned against the government of President Yoon Suk Yeol. A majority of respondents in a recent poll said that the government should negotiate with the doctors to reach an agreement quickly or withdraw its proposal.

“When the protests first started, I couldn’t really feel it,” said Lee Seung-ku, a university student in Seoul, adding “I don’t have anyone around me that frequents the hospital.” But as the walkout dragged on, he said that he heard about acquaintances struggling to get care and felt that the government was not acting fast enough to reach an agreement with doctors.

President Yoon Suk Yeol’s reluctance to negotiate with doctors has turned public opinion against him.Credit…Yonhap/EPA, via Shutterstock
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