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[Editorial] Citizens must be doctors' primary concern

Posted October. 06, 2000 21:04,   


Doctors are again on a general strike. This is their third all-out walkout since June this year. Reportedly, the strike will not affect big general hospitals' medical services in emergency wards, intensive care units, maternity wards or hospital admissions. But, small and medium-sized hospitals and clinics which had stayed out of the strikes thus far decided to join the nationwide strike this time. Patients' pain and suffering will likely be greater than ever before.

Against the doctors' strikes, the Korean Pharmaceutical Association (KPA) decided to counter them by its temporary measure of dispensing drugs for patients without prescriptions, if the patients so desire. This will then virtually nullify the newly introduced system, after barely two months, of separating the professional roles of doctors and pharmacists over the use of drugs. In the process, only patients have had to undergo deadly suffering out of such pandemonium. For that reason, more and more people are now decrying the new system as well as expressing their deep skepticism toward it.

The Kim Dae-Jung administration has been against any idea of revising the Pharmaceutical Law. But, all of sudden it stated the day before the doctors' general strike that it was prepared to revise the law. It then proposed a creation of a joint consultative committee, composed of doctors, pharmacists and government representatives.

Striking physicians, however, turned the proposal down by saying that it is aimed to shift the blame to them for the troubled situation. It is truly lamentable to see the Kim administration's ill-prepared negotiations. How far is it going to continue with such tactless negotiations? We are, indeed, skeptical about the administration's competence to resolve the present crisis situation.

Harsh criticisms against the striking doctors are also due for their dogged stand of continuing with the general strike while maintaining their on-going negotiations. The Kim administration has repeatedly surrendered its negotiating positions to accept physicians' demands; it formally apologized for the lack of adequate preparations for the new medical practice together with the humiliating promise for a Pharmaceutical Law revision. Despite the administration's concessions, doctors' continuation of general strikes that threaten the people's lives, it appears, has no genuine desire for negotiations but a single purpose in mind, which is their total victory.

Superficially, though, doctors have always pretended that they are for medical reforms for the people and the complete separation of professional roles between physicians and pharmacists over the use of drugs. But, the general public is now seriously suspicious of doctors' pretensions in view of their repeated collective strikes.

What has emerged is a consensus against pharmacists' discretionary dispensation of medicine. Substitute dispensation can be left to patients' choice once the clinical tests are complete and have proven that the effects of substitute drugs are equal with those prescribed. The governmental fund increase to strengthen the medical insurance fund appears necessary.

The pivotal consideration here is the fact that genuine concern for the people must assume a central importance in discussing all of the pending medical issues. Doctors must know that they can hardly win the people's support if their professed concern for the people remains nominal and empty and if they are only interested in holding the people as their hostages for the fight. We repeat here what we have all along argued for: ``Doctors should immediately stop their strikes and come to the conference table to complete their negotiations.''