UNI affiliate, the Korea Health and Medical Workers’ Union (KHMU), together with 35 representatives of regional hospitals and lawmakers, held a press conference on 13 December in front of the National Assembly building urging the government to pass a budget bill that will support the normalization of the financial health of hospitals previously designated for treatment of COVID patients.
Many regional hospitals had responded to the government’s appeal during the pandemic to specialize in treating COVID-19 patients. After two and a half years, these hospitals that turned away non-COVID patients have yet to recover financially. Patients with non-COVID issues are not returning to these hospitals for consultation and treatment and as a result, these hospitals are facing a serious management crisis and health workers are consequently suffering from wage arrears.
KHMU President Sister Na Sun-Ja appealed to lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties, said,
“The KHMU seriously urge the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the National Assembly members to ensure the upcoming budget debate during the plenary session on 20 December must restore financial support to levels that can support the operations of the regional hospitals until they return to (pre-COVID) normal situations.”
According to sources cited by the KHMU, it will take at least four years for local medical centres to recover to pre-COVID-19 patient levels. After the COVID-19 pandemic was declared over in 2022, the Korean government has only provided partial financial support ranging from 6 to 12 months. This lack of support acutely affected regional hospitals with many risking financial distress due to the slow rate of patient return.
The press conference took place after 10 days of hunger strike staged by union leaders from 28 hospitals and they were joined by KHMU President Sister Na Sun-Ja in the cold weather. Six of the leaders dropped out of the hunger strike due to health-threatening complications while eighteen other leaders held out.
The Head of UNI Care Alan Sable and UNI Asia & Pacific Regional Secretary Rajendra Acharya, in support of KHMU’s call, sent a joint solidarity letter on 15 December appealing to the leaders of the ruling party and the largest opposition party in the National Assembly, urging them to ensure the Budget Bill crucial to maintaining support for these hospitals could be passed on 20 December.