More than 6,400 trainee doctors have submitted their resignations in protest of the government’s plan to boost the number of medical students, officials said on February 20, as worries mount that their collective action could put public health at risk, Report informs referring to Yonhap.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told reporters that the ministry ordered 831 trainee doctors to return to work, with tensions between doctors and the government spiking over the plan to add 2,000 to the country’s medical school enrollment quota next year.

As of Monday, 6,415 trainee doctors at 100 hospitals submitted their resignations, with about 1,600 of them walking off the job, Park said.

There are around 13,000 trainee doctors in South Korea.

With trainee doctors stopping work at some hospitals, some patients have already experienced delays in surgeries and other treatments. Still, no major disruption in medical services has yet occurred.

To cope with a potential disruption of medical services, the government will extend operating hours at 97 public hospitals and emergency rooms at 12 military hospitals will be opened to the public, Park said.

“We are deeply disappointed and concerned that the collective action by trainee doctors has led to a disruption in medical services, such as the cancellation of surgeries,” Park said.

“We cannot give justification to the actions of the doctors leaving their patients behind to protest a policy despite knowing what the collective action could result in,” Park added.

“The government will put in utmost efforts to operate an emergency medical system to minimize possible damage to the patients.”

The government says the increase in the admission quota is needed to address a shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas and essential medical fields, such as high-risk surgeries, pediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine.

The number of doctors in South Korea relative to the size of the population is among the lowest in the developed world, according to health authorities.