Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong enters the briefing room inside the government complex in central Seoul, Monday. Newsis

The government has decided to drop all punitive measures against striking trainee doctors as it refocuses efforts on swiftly restoring the operation of medical services disrupted by their absences nationwide for months.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Monday that it shelved its plan to enforce penalties, including the suspensions of their medical licenses, on more than 12,000 trainee doctors for their refusal to comply with its order to return to work.

This would put an end to a nearly five-month standoff between the trainee doctors and the ministry, which refused to approve the resignations of those who left hospitals in protest of its decision to increase the nation’s medical school admissions quota.

“Considering the current state of medical services as well as proposals from hospitals where trainee doctors work, we decided today not to take any administrative action against them regardless of whether they return to work or not,” Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong told reporters at a briefing room situated in the Government Complex in central Seoul.

The announcement comes as the ministry is shifting its focus to filling the big labor void left by those trainees with new ones. Within two months, hospitals are expected to begin taking steps to recruit resident physicians for the new semester.

Ministry officials are hoping that a sufficient number of new trainees will help normalize operations at 211 hospitals, which have been 한국을 partially paralyzed as a result of the collective action taken by more than 13,000 trainee doctors who walked out of their workplaces. Only several hundred of them have so far returned to work after the ministry threatened strong measures against their unlawful actions.

In an effort to entice back to hospitals the doctors who decided to drop out midway through their training programs, the ministry plans to revise administrative rules to allow them to continue their programs without having to start all over.

“The government will give special favors to returning junior doctors regarding their training, as well as to those who opt to apply again for training courses in September,” Cho said. “We have come to this decision after concluding that it would benefit the public more as it would provide additional trainee physicians when they are needed to minimize (the inconvenience caused by) the medical service vacuum for urgent, severe patients.”

He urged the hospitals to complete the resignation process for all trainee doctors who insist on leaving and finalize the number of vacancies by next Monday.

He also reiterated his promises to improve their working conditions possibly by cutting work hours to a maximum of 60 hours a week from 80 hours and to introduce more programs to enhance the quality of their education.

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