Severe Medical Staffing Shortage; “63% of surveyed institutions reported sometimes surgical operations are done by non-medical staff.”
○ The Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU, President Na Soon-ja) held a press conference and a testimonial event titled with “Public Release of Medical Staffing Survey” at Samemyeong Hall of the Union’s building at 10:10 AM (KST) on Sep 30, 2022.
○ In the press conference and the event, the result of medical staffing survey was open to the public, followed by testimonies over unfair medical practices experienced by health workers.
○ “The number limit of new medical students in collages has been frozen for 17 years at 3,058 in total nationwide,” said President Na. “Without raising the current medical staffing level, no one can assure the safety of patients and expect an increase in number of public hospitals. That is, we cannot picture a safe and healthy future of medical services in Korea without more medical staff. Hence, from now onward, we will be more active in publicizing the issues by holding press conferences and campaigns in solidarity with other unions and civic groups,” she emphasized.
○ Na Yeong-myeong, Planning Director of the KHMU, said in his presentation, “The survey over 99 medical institutions revealed severe challenges due to medical staffing shortage. Some hospitals showed a wide gap between their capacity of medical staffing and the actual employment level. The widest gap of the staffing number was found to be 106 in a hospital.” According to the respondents, physician assistants (PA) are widely hired by hospitals to provide medical services on behalf of medical staff with one hospital having as many as 200 PAs. Reportedly, PAs are often forced to do medical doctors’ jobs, violating the medical law. For example, 75 out of 97 institutions (75.25%) were reported that prescription are made by non-physician substitutes with the concerned doctor’s ID and passcode, while nursing staff provides informed consent form to patients in 67 out of surveyed 97 institutions (69.07%). Even worse, non-doctor substitutes do operations and medical procedures in 60 out of 95 hospitals (63.15%).
○ The department facing the most severe challenges is gynecology, struggling to recruit medical staff, followed by pediatrics, thoracic surgery, and urology in that order. Director Na pointed out, “Medical staff shortage has driven all including patients, health workers, medical doctors and organizations into seriously risky situations.”
Following the press conference, health workers came up and testified struggling situations led by medical staff shortage in various hospitals including national university hospitals, private university hospitals, local medical centers and public hospitals for special purposes.
○ A health work working for a university hospital shared his experiences, “One medical doctor should treat around 100 patients. Hence, patients rarely see doctors in person. Instead, PAs meet patients and work like a ghost using doctors’ ID.
○ Another worker also said, “a medical specialist, also a faculty member of the medical college, tries to shorten already a less than 5-minute-long chair time by dumping their diagnostic and treatment plan work onto PA nurses. Plus, nurses are pushed to handle quite a few jobs that are supposedly done by residents. Medical staff shortage not only downgrades quality of medical services but challenges hospital operation. Yet, in reality, even a 300 million salary offer doesn’t secure a night doctor dedicated to the ER.”
○ A worker from a public hospital disclosed, “The capacity to hire residents is 32, but actual number of employed residents is 22 only, leading to heavy workload to each resident. Hence, PAs have to take over some of their jobs. Patients can’t see doctors so their complaints are increasing. Even surgical patients are not properly hospitalized in time and even at night while patients are in bed, we often have to get their signature on the surgery consent form. Worse more, it is the COVID-19 treatment hospital, but there isn’t a single infectious disease specialist.”
○ Another worker also revealed, “We lack doctors so much. So, entry-level doctors in duty have to see over 100 patients. They alone can’t afford to handle emergency situations properly. They often hang up the calls from nurses and abuse health workers but the hospital admin office keeps telling nurses to be patient in fear of doctors quitting the job. It is not a surprise any more that non-medical staff works on jobs of medical staff, whether it would, surgery or prescription.” The health worker appealed, “Heavy workload should be shared among doctors. Doctors’ jobs should be done by doctors. Nurses’ jobs should be handled by nurses. To this end, more medical staff is needed. Please, join us to request a higher medical staffing level.”
○ In the press release read aloud by Choi Hee-sun, the Head of the KHMU Seoul Office requested: ▲ increase the student entrance number of medical collages ▲ put forward a supportive policy that can be effective for essential departments less popular among medical doctor candidates ▲ implement a medical staff management policy to ensure even distribution and provisions of elite resources ▲ root out any illegal practices in hospitals and define scopes of jobs of each positions ▲ open a social dialogue session to secure more medical staff in accordance with the September 2 Agreement between Government and Labor.
○ With the five requests, the KHMU put forward immediate discussion sessions to doctors’ association, hospital association, nurses’ association, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, civil society and the National Assembly. At the same time, the Union also encouraged every walk of life to join forces in the Union’s campaign and activities in order to successfully establish more medical collages, increase the student entrance number of medical colleges, establish public medical colleges and secure more medical doctors in each hospital.