Yoon vetoes controversial Nursing Act
President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday vetoed a controversial nursing bill that defines the roles and responsibilities of nurses.
During a Cabinet meeting Tuesday morning, Yoon vetoed the newly legislated Nursing Act, which has sparked fierce tensions between doctors and nurses. The decision came just 20 days after the bill passed in the National Assembly.
“The Nursing Act is causing excessive conflicts between related occupations,” Yoon said.
“[The legislation of] nursing services outside medical institutions is arousing insecurity regarding people’s health.”
This marks Yoon’s second veto of a bill, following his veto of an amendment to the Grain Management Act last month.
Once a bill is returned to the National Assembly, it must be approved by two-thirds of a quorum of lawmakers to override the veto.
However, this is unlikely with the Nursing Act as the People Power Party (PPP) holds 115 parliamentary seats out of 300.
The bill was pushed through the National Assembly on April 27 by the Democratic Party (DP), which holds more than half of the legislature’s 300 seats.
“It is very regretful that such social conflicts and anxiety were not resolved through comprehensive discussions between occupations and deliberation in the parliament,” Yoon added.
The Nursing Act, which stipulates “all citizens are entitled to nursing care at medical institutions and in local communities,” led doctors to go on partial strikes after the bill was passed, concerned that such a bill would allow nurses to practice medicine independently and even open clinics due to the inclusion of the term “local communities.”
The current Medical Service Act states that nurses should perform healthcare services under the guidance of physicians.
Other medical staff, including certified nursing assistants, have also been protesting the bill, arguing that the legislation privileges nurses.
Nurses have been calling for a separate law defining their roles and responsibilities, as the ambiguity of the current law has led them to perform duties outside of their jobs.
The opposition party on Tuesday lamented Yoon’s rejection of the bill.
“President Yoon’s veto of the Nursing Act is a hypocritical action of showcasing care for the medical system, incompetency for not being able to keep his pledge and arrogance for ignoring the parliament’s legislative power,” DP floor spokesperson Kim Han-kyu wrote in a statement.
“If the Yoon administration continues with hypocrisy, incompetence and arrogance, it will be hard to avoid a harsh judgment from the public,” Kim said, asking Yoon to withdraw his decision.
DP floor leader Park Kwang-on also wrote on his Facebook that Yoon’s veto of the bill is an act of “rejecting the public,” criticizing that it is hard to find “leadership from Yoon to unite people.”
The Korean Nurses Association (KNA) held a press conference near the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul right after the Cabinet meeting ended on Tuesday.
“The president’s promise to legislate the Nursing Act is full of evidence and records, but the president has broken such pledges and promises,” Kim Young-kyung, president of the KNA, said.
“We will not stop fighting for the legislature of the nursing bill.”
A day earlier, the KNA had warned of a group response if Yoon vetoes the bill, although it had not disclosed what actions they will take to protest the president’s decision.
The PPP had been hesitant in rejecting the bill as the nurses’ union is much larger than the unions for doctors and nursing assistants who protest against the bill, which could affect their chances in next year’s general election.
“[The veto] is not a rejection of the nurses’ request but it is to make a stable change since the entire medical system could be affected if the bill is legislated,” an official from the presidential office was quoted as saying.
Some 13 medical associations, including the Korean Medical Association, that went on partial strikes against the Nursing Act decided to put on hold their planned full strike on Wednesday until the bill is put to vote again at the National Assembly.
The reconsideration of the bill is expected to take place at a parliamentary plenary session as early as next Thursday.
The government on the same day promised to improve the working conditions of nurses regardless of the legislation.
“The country will take responsibility and improve the working conditions of nurses according to the measures announced in April to support nurses regardless of the legislation of the Nursing Act,” Health and Welfare Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said during a press briefing held after the president’s veto of the bill was announced.
“We will draw up a reasonable cooperative system so that different occupations could take care of patients on-site based on their expertise.”
BY CHO JUNG-WOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]