Health regulation planned before Gezi protests, Turkey's health minister says
ANKARA – Anadolu Agency
Doctors offered an immediate medical response to Gezi protesters in the Dolmabahçe Mosque in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş neighborhood on June 1 and 2. DHA photo
Turkey’s government planned to punish health professionals for providing “unlicensed” health services even before the Gezi protests, when doctors and nurses rushed to aid victims of police brutality, although the incidents proved the need for such a law, according to Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu.
“We prepared this regulation [to bring prison sentences to those who provide unlicensed health services] before the Gezi Park incidents. But even if we had not prepared these regulations, we saw during the Gezi incidents that we needed such a regulation, so we would have done it [after Gezi]. There is no need to hide this; this is serving the people,” Müezzinoğlu told Anadolu Agency today.
An omnibus draft bill on health aims to bring all health services under the control of the Health Ministry and prevent unlicensed services. Article 33 of the draft law calls for a one- to three-year jail sentence and a fine of up to 2 million Turkish Liras for doctors who continue to provide unlicensed health care after emergency health services arrive at the scene.
Many temporary voluntary health units were established during the resistance that spread across the country after erupting in late May against a construction project in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.
The minister said they had submitted the draft to the Cabinet before the Gezi unrest, adding that claims that the article was drafted solely to punish Gezi protesters was “totally ideological and resulted from the bad intentions of some circles.”
Müezzinoğlu said there was no regulation on emergency response services, but added that establishments which were providing emergency aid without giving any record or information to authorities could not be accepted.
“Imagine that one put up a tent near the street to provide first aid to traffic accidents. This is not within the rule of law,” he added.
During the protests, many doctors and medical school students provided first aid to demonstrators wounded due to tear gas, water cannon and tear gas canisters used by riot police. Temporary medical care centers were opened at Gezi Park by the volunteers to provide first aid to wounded protesters.
Müezzinoğlu claimed some of these volunteers were not even doctors and were people hiding from police officers. He also claimed his ministry would be blamed if protesters suffered complications in these centers.
The minister further alleged that nine of the 18 ambulances stationed at the park during the height of the protests were damaged by protesters.
On Nov. 19, several international organizations sent a joint letter to Müezzinoğlu and Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek over the problems that could arise with the draft, according to daily Hürriyet.
“If Article  becomes law, independent and credible doctors will face prosecution when providing first aid during demonstrations when the Health Ministry’s ambulances are also on the scene,” said the letter, penned by organizations including the World Medical Association, Physicians for Human Rights, the British Medical Association, the German Medical Association and members of the Standing Committee of European Doctors.
“This regulation will make it a crime for qualified health workers to conduct their job independently in Turkey and grant unprecedented control to the Health Ministry. In times of urgency, the international standards over medical care are based on medical need rather than the accessibility of medical care,” the letter said.