Police prevent doctors from gathering in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on occasion of National Doctors Day

 Turkish doctors who wanted to stage a demonstration against poor working conditions and low pay on Monday were prevented by police from holding the protest in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the Evrensel daily reported.

On the occasion of March 14, National Doctors Day, healthcare workers gathered in Taksim to lay a wreath in the square but were removed by the police. Demonstrators started shouting “Shame on you Erdogan!” in reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the confrontation with the police.

Osman Küçükosmanoğlu, secretary of the Istanbul Chamber of Medicine, said every year they gathered in Taksim to voice their demands and leave flowers. However, this year, since they were prevented from doing so, they would leave the flowers in front of the police barricade, he said.

Social media users also criticized the police for using force against the doctors. One man on Twitter said he was embarrassed for the police and also government officials who had not criticized the intervention.

 

Last week Erdoğan targeted doctors and healthcare workers amid protests calling for more manageable workloads, increased security and higher pay due to the heavy workload caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising cases of physical violence against healthcare employees and soaring inflation –- registered at a two-decade high, according to official figures -– that reduce doctors’ salaries to close to the minimum wage.

“If they’re leaving, let them go. We’ll employ our newly graduated doctors here and move forward with them. If necessary, we’ll invite those back who want to return from abroad. Don’t worry, posts here won’t be vacant [for long],” Erdoğan said on March 8 at a meeting with local government officials in Ankara.

While 1,405 doctors left their jobs in Turkey to work abroad in 2021, 197 more emigrated in January alone, according to Turkish Medical Association (TTB) figures. Local media reports say that thousands more are getting ready to leave if the Turkish government fails to meet their demands.

The doctors’ departures are a sad indictment of Erdoğan, who burnished his own reputation by expanding universal health care over his 19 years in power. But the strains of those overhauls wrought by Erdoğan, in addition to those brought by the pandemic and increasing inflation, have undermined the very professionals on whom the health system depends.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Health Ministry announced the same day that physicians between the ages of 65 and 72 who had worked in the ministry or its affiliated institutions could be reassigned to their posts in the public sector.

The move has been described by many as an attempt by the government to make up for the increasing number of healthcare workers moving to the private sector or leaving the country for better working conditions.

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