A large-scale nationwide strike on Wednesday saw hundreds of thousands of Turkish doctors, medical workers, healthcare employees and social support personnel demanding better pay, lower patient load and increased safety measures.
The one-day strike was called by five Turkish healthcare unions representing more than 250,000 employees. In addition to earlier woes and difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, health workers were recently angered by a draft bill submitted to the Parliament that aimed to boost financial conditions of healthcare personnel but was suddenly withdrawn.
During the strike, only emergency services, COVID-19 wards and oncology clinics served patients.
A group of 500 healthcare workers gathered in Ankara, calling for the ratification of the proposed bill including further incentives.
Hundreds of health workers, including doctors, nurses, medical staff and laboratory assistants also gathered in front of the Istanbul University Faculty of Medicine complex in the Fatih district, demanding better conditions and protesting the government's policies.
Medical personnel across all 81 provinces of Turkey joined the strike, according to the sector's leading union, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB).
Some medical associations and personnel opted not to join the strike, citing the TTB's politically-led position but also underlining the problems facing health workers.
Turkey has recently been recording around 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 and 180 deaths per day, according to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca. He said on Saturday that six cases of the omicron variant have been detected in Turkey.
"We want to live and make others live," "Free and equal healthcare for everyone," and "We cannot breathe" were some of the slogans chanted by the protesters in Istanbul.
Health workers complained about the difficulty of making ends meet, as inflation soared with the Turkish lira losing half its value against the dollar this year.
"The health ministry is not keeping its promises. We are demanding a pay rise that matches inflation, at least. We demand that the coronavirus is recognized as an occupational illness," said laboratory worker Aydın Erol at the protest.
The TTB says health care workers have grown increasingly frustrated with the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of transparency in data on infections and deaths due to COVID-19 and measures to protect health personnel.
Many medical professionals have sought to leave the country due to low salaries, long hours and the risk of violence, it added. More than 100,000 doctors have been physically and verbally assaulted in the last 11 years and at least 10 have been killed by patients, it said.
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