“Imagine We’re Gone”: Turkey’s healthcare workers on strike

The poster prepared by General Practicioners Association Federation for the strike of medical workers read “Imagine We Are Gone.” The postal stamps are special editions that were issued by İran, France and China to express their appreciation for healthcare workers during Covid-19.

Turkey’s healthcare workers will go on a strike once again on March 14 to 16 demanding better working conditions. Please support them. Because the very reasons that created their unbearable working conditions also threaten our rights as citizens to decent healthcare. Therefore please cancel your medical appointments if you have any for these given days. I would recommend visiting health facilities during this time only to show solidarity with your doctors. Emergency care and intensive care will remain fully functional, hopefully you will not need any of those.

The unbearable working conditions of health workers is the outcome of of a patchy irrational health system, if we can call it a system, accumulated in years. However, what triggered the last recent restlesness among health workers, and especially physicians , was a regulation that limited the time that a doctor had to devote to an outpatient to five minutes.

You heard right: five minutes!

The time allotted for a patient to come in, introduce themselves, express their complaint, be examined, get diagnosed, treatment path to be arranged and explained to them. It is not necessary to be a health manager to predict that health care cannot be provided within this period, or even pretended to be.

“As if” healthcare

At the end of 90’s I was among the physicians protesting the overloaded outpatient clinics at public hospitals, demanding , “20 minutes per patient”. How naive we were. But we did not make up that 20 minutes rule. It was the World Medical Association standard. Sad for us, our protests were not successful, we could not reach 20 minutes standard, but I could have taken it as a joke at the time, if I were told that an outpatient visit should take 5 minutes.

This recent regulation is the summary of our health system. Pretending while facing aggravating problems. Seeing patients “as if’ providing a meaningful health service. Healthcare workers object to this tragicomic situation. Both because they are under an unbearable workload and also this situation, which does not provide any real benefit, destroys the respect they have for themselves and their profession. And of course, they are worried that the examination period, which obviously cannot satisfy anyone and do not provide even the minimum time for a healthy communication with their patients, will escalate the violence which has already become a routine event. But as citizens, we have to object. This is not what we deserve as citizens.

President fueled the fire

And yet, the President added fuel to the fire last week.

He must have heard that there were doctors who are resigning in large numbers from public services, flocking to language courses and leaving for abroad in unprecedented numbers 9 around 1300 left during the last year. Instead of being alarmed he simply showed the door: “We do not care if they go”.

Other points he made in this speech higlighted again the perspective of top administration on the health system: “The government built hospitals. There will be many new graduates to fill the place of outgoing physicians. We will import doctors from other countries.” In summary that perspective is: a building, plus someone with the title of Medical Degree, regardless of experience and/or quality equals to wonderful health care.

Unfortunately things are not that simple. By the way, as someone who has studied the health systems in many countries, including underdeveloped countries, I could not find an answer to the question where in the world we can find Medical doctors that would agree to work in these conditoins for 600-700 dollars a month? Assuming they did, how long would they stay?

What do doctors want?

The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) listed its demands in ten articles. None of them are impossible to be met.

Health care system is in a downward spiral due to the problems education, the chaotic organization, the lack of a referral system, the unsatisfied and exhausted workers, fleeing the country in large numbers. It is even more alarming that the highest authorities do not even seem to recognize the problems.

For my own account, I worry that In the coming years I will not be able to reach quality services even With out-of-pocket payments.

The coming days will witness the most widespread and widely attended physician strikes in the history of this country. I hope that these protests will serve as a warning sign for the whole society, including decision makers to deal with the health system in a more serious and Realistic way.. If we do not examine closely the problems of our health systems and develop solutions, the future will be worse than today.

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