More than 21,000 health care professionals including doctors, nurses, medical professors, technicians and hospital staff have thus far been dismissed from public and private hospitals as well as medical schools and associations in Turkey as part of a crackdown on perceived critics of the government, research by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has revealed.

Also, many of these purged health care professionals have faced criminal proceedings on terrorism and coup charges.

“Turkey’s crackdown on health care professionals including leading specialists and top surgeons and the closure of hospitals purely as a political vendetta has far-reaching implications that echo well beyond Turkey’s borders,” Abdullah Bozkurt, the president of SCF, has said. 

“This unprecedented annihilation of health care professionals in Turkey is one of the most underreported stories. It has to be widely reported, emphasized and amplified with a view toward putting pressure on Turkey to halt and reverse gross injustices,” he added. 

In 2016 almost 50 hospitals and clinics including the nation’s leading hospitals in Istanbul and Ankara were shut down by the Turkish government by way of decree-laws. The pretext was alleged ties to the Gülen group. According to the reports, this has taken a huge toll on the health industry in Turkey, increased the shortage of health care professionals such as doctors and nurses and restricted access to quality health care by many people who depended on services provided by doctors in the shuttered health institutions. 

SCF research also shows that 2,337 medical academics including leading professors in their fields of expertise lost their jobs. Of them, 1,697 worked in state-owned medical universities. In addition to that, 1,684 doctors in public hospitals and 1,200 doctors in privately run hospitals were abruptly laid off. The most casualties took place among health care professionals who are not doctors. In total, 11,821 health care professionals other than doctors lost their jobs. Of this, 5,821 had worked in the public health care system. It was estimated that some 4,000 hospital staff members other than health care professionals were also impacted by the layoffs. 

Moreover, many dismissed doctors and other healthcare workers report that they could not find jobs in the private sector because they were labelled as “terrorists” by the government without an opportunity to defend themselves against these accusations in either administrative probes or judicial investigations.

Health care professionals living in exile are confronted with a new set of challenges, from financial hardship to difficulty in securing recognition of their medical licenses in their new countries of residence. Lengthy asylum procedures, language barriers, cultural differences and challenges in entering the labor force coupled with the psychological trauma they suffered as they fled Turkey have burdened them. 

The terrible result of these dismissals and arrests has adversely impacted patient care in Turkey, where in some provinces people are unable to find doctors and specialists and are forced to make long trips to other cities to get treatment after lengthy delays. In the meantime, access to health care for detainees and prisoners has become increasingly difficult and challenging as a result of overcrowded prisons where the number of political prisoners has rapidly grown.

The unlawful closure of hospitals, medical schools and health clinics is also tantamount to violation of the right to free enterprise, which is protected by the Turkish Constitution. The shut down by the government of health associations also had an adverse impact on overseas charitable operations by doctors who had gone to less developed countries for health screening, surgeries and the delivery of medicines. 

SCF called on the Turkish government to release wrongfully jailed health care professionals and immediately drop fabricated charges against all of them while returning hospitals, medical centers and other institutions to their rightful owners with compensation for the loss of earnings and damages sustained.