July 7, 2022

South Korean health workers at hospitals and care homes have announced to stage another strike on Thursday as their calls for a manageable pandemic workload have gone unheeded by the government.

According to the members of the health care workers’ union, as the country begins returning to normal and in order to prepare for a COVID-19 surge ahead of winter, they have asked the government to increase staff and implement other support measures.

The union pointed out that the government has predicted the number of COVID-19 patients in the country to rise to around 5,000 a day. However, it has not mentioned anything on what steps might be taken to ease that burden on health workers.

The government last week had ordered hospitals to free up more beds to make room for up to 10,000 COVID-19 patients being diagnosed daily. But it did not mention anything about how it would address the pressure on front-line workers dealing with the situation first-hand.

The union said the government — while acknowledging that the pandemic exit plan would add to the strain on the health care system — ignored the difficult working conditions for front-line workers, resulting in the vote to strike.

According to senior Ministry of Health and Welfare official Lee Chang-joon, he commented that from the latest negotiations with the union, an understanding has been established that the strike will not lead to a significant disruption in medical services.

While Lee also pointed out that the ministry was determined to provide solutions to staffing and other issues raised by the union.

The ministry and the union in the last three rounds of meetings came to terms over how the nursing workforce would be deployed at every hospital with COVID-19 wards.

A representative of the Korea Hospitals’ Association commented that the hospitals have had to specially assemble COVID-19 beds and then dismantle them only to put them back together again repeatedly on the orders of the government.

The government is reported to cover some of the costs, however, not all.

He stressed that building COVID-19 beds is not easy. One need to separate them from non-COVID-19 beds with walls, and also set up negative pressure devices, which is an expensive makeover. Whilst adding that hospitals were already struggling financially from the pandemic.