May 27, 2024

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South Korean Doctors’ Strike: Toddler Dies After Being Rejected by 11 Hospitals

South Korean Doctors’ Strike: Toddler Dies After Being Rejected by 11 Hospitals

South Korean Doctors’ Strike: Toddler Dies After Being Rejected by 11 Hospitals

After being rejected by 11 hospitals, a 33-month-old toddler who had drowned tragically passed away due to lack of timely treatment. This absurd scenario is not a scene from a movie or a drama, but a real-life tragedy unfolding in the South Korean medical field.

Doctors involved in the resuscitation efforts pleaded on the emergency hotline, “We cannot stand by and watch a life slip away from our hands… please help us…” But for the next 2 hours, all they received were refusals.


” … We need to take the child to the hospital… we should at least try… there’s no ICU available, they won’t accept us because ‘there are no beds’… please help” 


Today marks the 51st day of the doctors’ strike in South Korea.


South Korean Medical Community: Hospitals Had No Choice but to Reject Patients

At the beginning of the doctors’ strike in South Korea, an 80-year-old patient experiencing sudden cardiac arrest was rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment. However, the ambulance was turned away by 7 hospitals citing reasons such as “no hospital beds, no specialized medical personnel, unable to treat critically ill patients.” Ultimately, the patient passed away en route to another hospital [3].

Compared to the chaos experienced two months ago, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare has since established an emergency medical care system in response to the collective actions of the doctors, coordinating existing medical resources to ensure the operation of the entire emergency medical system. Despite the increase in experience dealing with emergency situations, tragedies like this one have unfortunately not been avoided.

The unfortunate child who passed away was only 2 years and 9 months old. After being rescued and resuscitated at a local hospital, the child had regained a heartbeat and breathing. However, since the hospital was located in Chungcheongbuk-do, the local hospital did not have the capability to continue treating critically ill pediatric patients.

In an effort to save the child’s life, emergency doctors contacted multiple hospitals in Chungcheongbuk-do, Chungcheongnam-do, and the Seoul metropolitan area, and called the emergency number 119 for help, but were all refused admission for the patient citing reasons such as “shortage of manpower” and “shortage of beds.”


South Korean Doctors' Strike: Toddler Dies After Being Rejected by 11 Hospitals

Left picture: 11 rejected hospitals, located in Chungcheongbuk-do, Chungcheongnam-do and the capital area; Right picture: Timeline of treatment of the drowning girl, rescued at 4:30, confirmed dead at 7:40 Source: Reference 1 )



Local time at 7:40 a.m., after two hours of regaining heartbeat and breathing, the child was confirmed dead due to another cardiac arrest and unsuccessful resuscitation.

After being reported by “The Chosun Ilbo,” South Korea was in an uproar, with netizens expressing outrage, commenting, “This is murder!” “These doctors must take responsibility.”

However, the South Korean medical community expressed, “We cannot blame the hospitals, as they had no choice but to reject the patients.”

On one hand, many South Korean doctors have pointed out that out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is already a difficult situation to resuscitate. According to a survey on out-of-hospital cardiac arrest released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency in December last year, the survival rate of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients due to causes other than illness (trauma) in 2022 was only 3.8% [4].

On the other hand, due to the long-term uneven distribution of medical resources in South Korea, even without this strike, it may have still been difficult to save the same patient.

Tragedies like patients dying after being rejected by hospitals are not uncommon in South Korea.

In May 2023, a 5-year-old child with a high fever was rejected by 4 hospitals citing a lack of pediatricians and died several days later. In the same month, a 70-year-old Korean man was run over by a car and was rejected by 10 hospitals while being transported to the hospital, eventually dying in the ambulance two hours later.

According to statistics, from 2018 to 2022, there were as many as 37,000 cases of ambulances being rejected by hospitals in South Korea, with one-third of the refusals citing a lack of relevant doctors. [5]

On April 9, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo responded, stating, “There is a lack of hospitals and clinics in rural areas, and the medical environment is worse than in cities. Children’s patients are a bigger blind spot than adult patients… This incident starkly demonstrates the collapse of South Korea’s local medical system.” [6]

This statement highlights two prominent issues in South Korean healthcare: severe regional disparities and specialized disparities.

According to statistics from the Korea Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service in 2020, Gangwon-do’s Goseong-gun, which ranked last, had only 0.45 doctors per 1,000 people, while Seoul’s Jungno-gu had as many as 16.29 doctors per 1,000 people. [7]

Correspondingly, there are differences in treatment capabilities. According to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea, from 2015 to 2017, the emergency disease mortality rate in the southern part of Gangwon-do was 2.09, while in southeastern Seoul, it was only 0.85, making the former 2.5 times higher than the latter. [8]

Even the hospital director of a local hospital in Buan-gun, where the incident occurred, stated, “Even if an emergency patient appears in Buan-gun, many people have no choice but to be sent to Cheongju or Daejeon.” [4]

Another reason is the significant specialized disparity.

In South Korea, over 90% of hospitals are private, and the top five hospitals in the country are all private hospitals. Under this system, hospitals and doctors are highly concentrated in departments with commercial returns, while departments with lower returns such as pediatrics and obstetrics remain in a state of long-term shortage of medical resources and personnel.

In South Korea, only 13 hospitals nationwide are equipped with Pediatric Intensive Care Units (PICUs), with an average of only 12 beds. 55% of critically ill pediatric patients can only be treated in adult ICUs [4].

Meanwhile, the number of pediatricians in South Korea is decreasing, and many pediatric clinics and hospitals are facing closure. In the first half of 2023, South Korean hospitals could only guarantee 16.3% of pediatric services, far below the 97.4% in 2013 [9].

Lee Gyeong-won, Director of Public Affairs at the Korean Society of Emergency Medicine, told the media, “In the current situation where the pediatric emergency medical system is collapsing, if other emergencies such as pediatric epilepsy occur, tragedies may reoccur in medically weak areas.”



Will South Korea Persist with Healthcare Reform after Election Defeat?

On April 9, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo emphasized in his response, “To prevent such tragedies from happening again, we are working on healthcare reform.”

The South Korean government’s proposed healthcare reform plan includes significantly increasing medical school admissions, increasing financial investment in healthcare, shortening the continuous working hours of resident doctors, and reducing criminal penalties for medical accidents, among other measures. The “significant increase in medical school admissions” is also the catalyst for this doctor’s strike.

Since the beginning of this month, the South Korean government has been attempting to engage in dialogue with the

medical community, but has not made substantial progress.

On April 11, the results of the South Korean National Assembly elections were announced, with the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Korea, winning 161 seats, a overwhelming victory; the ruling People Power Party only won 90 seats [10]. On the same day, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo submitted his resignation to President Yoon Suk-yeol; all members of the Presidential Secretariat, the Chief Secretary, and the Chief Secretary of the Policy Office also resigned.

On the other hand, due to long-term high workload, the remaining emergency personnel in hospitals have also threatened to resign. The last line of defense in the South Korean medical community may be on the verge of collapse.

South Korean Doctors’ Strike: Toddler Dies After Being Rejected by 11 Hospitals

[5]HK01 “Four years ago – Doctors’ strike – or it will happen again – South Korea’s large increase in medical students may trigger a medical crisis”


(source:internet, reference only)

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Important Note: The information provided is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice.