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Healthcare workers stage strike across Turkey, protesting gov’t policies

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Physicians and healthcare workers who are members of Turkey’s leading healthcare unions went on a one-day strike on Wednesday to protest the ruling party’s health-related policies, the Birgün daily reported.

The strike was staged by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) and joined by the Health and Social Service Employees Union (SES), the Revolutionary Health Workers Union (Dev Sağlık-İş), General Healthcare and Social Services Branch Public Employees Union (Genel Sağlık-İş) and the Primary Care Health Workers Unity and Solidarity Union.

All services except emergency care were halted on Wednesday at healthcare facilities where members of the unions worked.

Healthcare professionals complain about low wages, poor working conditions, the marketization of healthcare and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) efforts to undermine peace in the workplace.

Healthcare workers taking part in the strike at the Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty Hospital in İstanbul gathered at the hospital and started a march, which was later joined by other actions launched elsewhere in the city.

Several SES members protested the AKP’s health policies and practices at Akdeniz University Hospital in Antalya, while another protest was held in front of Atatürk State Hospital, where members of the SES’s Antalya branch criticized the government’s policies in a press statement.

“All health and social service workers are currently hard pressed in the face of poor working conditions, long hours, underemployment, violence against healthcare workers and declining benefits,” SES Antalya branch co-chair Şükran İçöz said.

“Health professionals die in traffic accidents due to a lack of sleep after long hours,” İçöz said, referring to the tragic death of Dr. Rümeysa Berin Şen, who was driving home after a 36-hour shift in October.

Pictures of protesting healthcare workers in Mersin and Adana were posted on social media by TTB chairman Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı.

“Our monthly salaries are below the ‘hunger threshold’,” said representatives of the Mersin branches of the protesting unions in a joint statement, adding: “The health minister failed to raise his voice for our rights and therefore didn’t do his job. Resignation is the best thing he can do for us.”

The Turkish medical community is suffering from low wages, an excessive workload and violence from patients, all of which have reached new heights during the coronavirus pandemic.

Attacks and threats against doctors and other medical personnel by patients or their relatives are frequent in Turkey. Doctors face violence, in some instances even death, for allegedly not giving sufficient or belated treatment to a person in Turkey’s overcrowded hospitals.

In the face of these problems, many healthcare professionals have resigned in recent years, with a number of them seeking to move abroad.

In Manisa some 100 physicians working at public health facilities have resigned over the last year and a half, creating a gap in medical services in the city, the Cumhuriyet daily reported.

As a result, residents have to go to private hospitals, where they pay higher prices.

“General surgeons, gastroenterologists and endocrinologists are particularly hard to find,” Manisa Medical Chamber President Şahut Duran said.

The TTB announced that more than 1,000 physicians have resigned from facilities run by the Health Ministry in the last 18 months.

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