SEOUL, July 14 (Korea Bizwire) — Unionized medical workers demanding better working conditions and increased support for public medical institutions ended their two-day general strike Friday, after their walkout caused patient inconvenience and operational disruptions at hospitals across the country.
About 45,000 nurses, caregivers and other members of the Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU), who are from 140 medical institutions nationwide, participated in the general strike on the day, union officials said.
At a press conference, the KHMU said it decided to end the general strike at 5 p.m. and hold negotiations with the health ministry, considering the safety of patients and the inconvenience it has caused.
The group of medical workers said it would make efforts to swiftly reach a deal through the talks. But it also warned of another general strike if they fail to generate “meaningful” results.
Demands put forward by the striking medical workers include the expansion of the integration of nursing and caregiving services, and the institutionalization of a nurse-to-patient ratio of 1 to 5.
KHMU members at 20 upper-level general hospitals across the country, including Korea University’s Anam and Guro hospitals, Kyunghee University Hospital, Hanyang University Hospital and Pusan National University Hospital (PNUH), were among those who walked out.
Patients suffered much inconvenience due to drastically reduced operations at the strike-hit hospitals.
The PNUH, the largest medical institution in the southern port city of Busan, was managing only 150 inpatients in special wards, such as intensive care units, and 100 general ward inpatients with limited mobility after having earlier discharged about 700 general ward inpatients in preparation for the strike.
The Busan Medical Center, another major hospital in the port city, has reduced its outpatient departments by more than half from 22 to seven.
Some medical institutions in Seoul, such as Korea University Guro Hospital, have notified paramedics and emergency rescue workers that they are unable to provide emergency treatment in certain fields.
Labor and management at the strike-hit hospitals have deployed essential workers for tasks directly related to patients’ lives and to operate emergency response teams.
In non-emergency areas, however, there were some cases where treatment appointments were canceled or surgeries were postponed.