SEOUL - Concerns about the country's health services are growing as doctors plan to launch further industrial action later this month, despite stern warnings from the government.
On Monday, thousands of doctors staged their first strike in 14 years to protest the government's push to introduce telemedicine and for-profit subsidiaries for hospitals.
President Park Geun-hye warned against doctors joining the nationwide strike, saying their actions were unacceptable and put lives in danger.
The Korean Medical Association, the group of doctors that led the strike on Monday, is planning to launch its second protest on March 24 for six consecutive days. The second strike may have a more serious impact than the first, as staff from emergency rooms and intensive care units centre will join the move. Doctors working in emergency rooms and intensive care units were excluded from Monday's strike.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare estimated that about 6,000 clinics nationwide, or 21 per cent of the total, joined the strike on Monday. The Korean Medical Association gave a higher estimate.
Nearly 50 per cent of the country's local clinics halted their operations, it said, adding that more than 7,100 medical residents also took part in the strike. About 17,000 medical residents work at 230 hospitals across the nation.
Until the second wave of industrial action begins, doctors said they would limit medical consultations to 15 minutes per patient. Medical residents will wear black ribbons on their gowns to protest against the state's new medical plans
With doctors vowing to stage the strike, the government said it would take administrative measures against clinics that halted their operations. Doctors may face suspensions of up to 15 days.