Turkey’s doctors end vigil in front of parliament, announce nationwide strike

The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) ended a 10-day vigil in front of parliament on Friday, and announced a nationwide strike of healthcare workers for Feb. 8.

The vigil, entitled the White Watch, had started on Jan. 26 in protest of the government postponing improvements to doctors’ rights and benefits.

Doctors marched from the TTB headquarters to parliament on Friday morning, accompanied by opposition deputies and representatives from NGOs, the association said. TTB Chairwoman Şebnem Korur Fincancı gave a speech in front of the Turkish parliament as the march concluded.

“We are fighting to uphold our values and principles as doctors,” Fincancı said.

One major demand in the protests is an improvement to base salaries of general practitioners, which for some doctors currently stands just above the country’s minimum wage.

The lowest salary for doctors working in Turkey’s public health system is 4,900 liras ($360), while senior doctors of 30 years can earn as low as 5,800 liras. With the latest improvements, Turkey’s minimum wage stands at 4,253 liras.

“Turkey ranked sixth from the bottom among OECD countries for specialist doctors’ salaries in 2020,” the TTB said in a press statement. Turkey also ranks 14th out of 17 countries for practitioners’ salaries.

More than 3,000 doctors have asked for their retirement in the 20 months until October 2021, tripling the normal rate, TTB said. “This does not mean that the doctors won’t be working, it means they will be working in private healthcare institutions.”

The shift towards the private sector puts pressure on doctors as well, the group said, as they lose benefits in favour of increased profits for private hospitals. TTB also pointed to the large number of doctors leaving the country:

“The number of doctors emigrating has increased by 24 times in 10 years. In one month, 197 doctors applied to the TTB for certificates to work abroad – more than three times the number of applications in the whole year of 2012.”

Doctors in the public healthcare system are forced to see one patient every five minutes, which makes it impossible to give quality healthcare and would lead to worse public health, TTB said.

“The government and the Health Ministry have taken next to no scientific measures to avoid disease and death among both society and doctors,” TTB continued, condemning the ministry’s decision to lift all restrictions.

“Turkey remains among countries with most doctors’ deaths due to COVID-19,” it said. “Until the vaccination drive began, we lost one healthcare worker to this infection every 30 minutes.”

Healthcare workers made up 14 percent of all COVID-19 infections globally by Sept. 14, 2020, the group added.

The TTB repeated its call to all doctors for a walkout on February 8, adding:

“We are also calling on all society. This strike is not just for doctors or healthcare workers, it is for all of us. Do not visit hospitals on Feb. 8 so we can say enough to the dysfunctional system, to 5-minute visits, to waiting months for appointments. Come to the hospitals to stand with us on Feb. 8 on our strike.”

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