‘We are dying,’ say Turkey’s exhausted healthcare professionals

Turkey’s healthcare workers are exhausted, mentally drained, and are contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus at alarming rates, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) headquarters and its provincial chapters said in a joint press release on Friday.

“Every day we hear of our colleagues contracting the disease, and while some speak of success stories on televisions and on Twitter, we are dying,” said the statement.

Doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and other hospital staff are contracting COVID-19 at alarming rates as the pandemic continues in Turkey. Some 80 people working in the public hospital of southeastern Bingöl province, including three doctors, have tested positive for the virus in August, Mezopotamya Agency reported.

“The fight against COVID-19 cannot continue as the government and the Health Ministry ignores doctors and healthcare workers, assuming everything is normal and not extraordinary,” the TTB statement said.

Doctors and other medical professionals gathered in front of TTB’s Istanbul offices, where Istanbul chapter board member Rukiye Eker read the statement.

Medical services are increasingly commercialised, and doctors face pressure to meet unrealistsic performance goals, Eker said, while case numbers “grow like an avalanche.”

“It must be understood,” Eker said, “that doctors and healthcare workers are in a smothering environment, and we are exhausted.”

Many doctors have lost hope, and started to resign or retire, she continued. “What has pushed doctors, who have worked with great sacrifice for months, to the brink of resignation and retirement is the dismissive and imposing attitude by incapable and unempathetic administrators.”

Healthcare workers in the southeastern Diyarbakır province, which has the country’s largest Kurdish population, staged a one-hour walkout on Thursday to draw attention to their intense working conditions.

“If you can’t protect doctors and healthcare workers, if you can’t provide material and emotional support to them, you can not ever protect society,” Eker said.

The statement was also read in various provinces where the pandemic continues in high concentrations, including the southern Mersin, Adana and Hatay provinces, western Izmir, and eastern and southeastern Van and Şanlıurfa.

Urfa chapter chairman Osman Yüksekyayla said doctors “cannot breathe anymore.”

In Van, police briefly intervened to keep the doctors from reading the statement. Chapter chairman Hüseyin Yaviç said doctors were losing hope in the face of “bad management and a know-it-all attitude.”

In Adana and Hatay, healthcare workers were supported by worker’s unions.

Izmir chapter chairman Lütfü Çamlı said there were 250 patients in the province’s hospitals, while 2,800 people were monitored in their homes. Doctors want to be more actively involved in the monitoring process, Çamlı said, as the number of cases continued to rise in Turkey’s third largest city.

The Ankara chapter on Aug. 14 announced that there were at least 517 healthcare workers who tested positive for the coronavirus in the capital.

In the TTB headquarters in Ankara, TTB Central Council Chairman Sinan Adıyaman said healthcare workers’ concerns have reached a new high.

The Batman chapter said in a series of tweets that there had been patients who died because the province’s intensive care units were full, while more than 600 healthcare professionals had tested positive to date.

Regular screening tests are still not available for hospital staff, the chapter said.

The rapid normalisation process where Turkey lifted most of the strict pandemic restrictions starting on June 1, and the government resorting to individual precautions against the pandemic have contributed to the exhaustion, despair, and feeling of not being valued for doctors and all healthcare workers, Adıyaman said. “Healthcare workers are exhausted,” he added, which also means “We are running out of healthcare workers,” in Turkish.

According to data the TTB gathered, the heaviest hit city was Istanbul, with a 18.2 percent death rate, followed by the country’s industrial region of eastern Marmara, with 7.4 percent. The steepest hike in case numbers was seen in central Anatolia, with 43.1 percent, followed by northeastern Anatolia’s 29.4 percent.

Friday’s official figures, as announced on Twitter by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, showed 1,203 new cases nationwide, while the TTB believes the figures the ministry announces contradict reality.

Earlier in the week, there were “more than 1,000 daily diagnoses in Ankara, alone,” TTB Osman Elbek told PRI’s The World.

Twenty two people died of COVID-19 on Friday, and the number of active cases increased to 14,074 after falling closer to four-figure levels when the restrictions were first lifted.

Turkey has lost a total of 6,080 people to the coronavirus to date. At least 26 doctors and 52 other healthcare professionals have died in hospitals due to the pandemic.