An immigrant worker died Wednesday because doctors from across the country staged a protest in Seoul.
The 33-year-old Thai man reportedly had been waiting to receive treatment to remove a chicken bone lodged in his throat.
The man had collapsed while having lunch at a factory in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, according to local police. He was rushed to a nearby medical clinic by his colleagues, but no doctors were available.
The worker died while he was being moved to a larger hospital in Bundang.
His wife told police that he seems to have choked on a piece of chicken bone. Police are investigating the exact cause of his death.
He was the first known casualty of the nationwide strike against a revision of the medical law.
An acquaintance said that delay of an ambulance car worsened the situation.
“We called the emergency service team at a nearby fire station to send us an ambulance, but it did not arrive 10 minutes after the call, so we had to move the patient ourselves,” said pastor Ahn Dae-hwan of the Gwangju Migrant Workers Center. “The medical treatment was further delayed while we were waiting for the car.
“Although there was an ambulance car on standby near the factory, the station sent one that was farther away, saying that the car was already occupied. We have asked the Ombudsman of Korea to check whether the fire station should be blamed for the death.”
The Gwangju Fire Department explained that it sent another ambulance because there was vomit in the nearer ambulance which could have contaminated the patient.
On Wednesday, about 40,000 medical and dental clinics were closed for the day.
Some 66,000 doctors, dentists and nurse assistants held a rally at the government complex in Gwacheon and threatened further action if the government went ahead with the medical law revision.
To cope with the suspension of medical services, national hospitals extended operating hours, and many patients suffered extra distress due to crowded hospitals.
Since earlier this year, the Health and Welfare Ministry has been pushing to revise the medical law for the first time in 34 years. The revision was proposed last month, and the government is determined to settle the bill within this year, despite vehement opposition from the medical sector.
Medical professionals claim that the revision would only tighten government control of their profession, undermine their businesses and threaten public health by easing barriers for illegal medical services.
But citizens criticize the medical sector for threatening public health by neglecting their duty and closing down hospitals.
The Health Ministry plans to order doctors to return to work and punish businesses defying the directive if the protests continue.
By Shin Hae-in
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