By Tuvan Gumrukcu
ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan opened one of the world’s largest hospitals in the Turkish capital Ankara on Thursday, brushing aside criticism of what is the latest in a series of mega projects that have marked his 16 years in power.
The Ankara City Hospital, built at a cost of around 1 billion euros, is equipped with some 3,810 beds and covers an area the size of around 100 football pitches. Critics in the health sector say its size will cause logistical problems.
Erdogan said that those opposed to such hospitals were against all major projects built by his governments.
“They come out against bridges, highways, tunnels, airports, high-speed train lines, hospitals and schools, but they are the ones who use them the most,” he said in a speech at a ceremony to mark the hospital’s opening.
Major construction projects have improved the quality of life for millions in Turkey but some have drawn a backlash for their excessive cost.
Istanbul’s new $12 billion airport, billed as one of the world’s biggest, is scheduled to open fully next month. Turkey is also planning to build a $16 billion canal that would turn the western side of Istanbul into an island.
Ankara is planning to open some 30 hospitals using the public private partnership (PPP) model and Erdogan said such large hospitals would be able to provide comprehensive healthcare in a single complex.
Hospital contractor CCN Holding secured a 890 million euro ($1.01 billion) project financing loan for the project, it said on its website. The government will pay rent on it for 25 years.
Several hospitals across the Turkish capital have been shut down or are being closed to redirect staff and patients to the new Ankara City Hospital, while some of the equipment is also being brought over to the new complex.
Critics say the hospital’s size makes it harder to control the spread of infections and distances within the complex will be detrimental to patient service and the work of medical staff.
The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) said it wrote to the health ministry detailing concerns but had not yet received a response.
“It has been proven in research conducted across the world that central hospitals are not cost effective and that they impact public health quite negatively,” TTB head Sinan Adiyaman told Reuters.
Adiyaman said the size and location of the Ankara City Hospital posed problems for traffic around the hospital, which is located on one of the city’s largest and most used roads.
European cities now prefer building several smaller hospitals rather a single large one and the PPP business model has largely been abandoned, he said, adding it was impossible for the government to make a short or long-term profit from the new hospitals.
“You need to organize, plan these very carefully, shift things around to find the right way. These aren’t things you do while looking out for some populist, political benefits. Health is a very serious issue,” Adiyaman said.
Erdogan, whose AK Party has Islamist roots, is popular among more pious Turks but secular Turks say his policies infringe on private lives and personal rights.
The AK Party has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years but faces challenges in local elections on March 31 due to a slowdown in the economy.
One employee at the Ankara City Hospital said the hospital, located in the Bilkent neighborhood, was opened to patients last month despite construction still being underway in several parts of the complex.
“We are struggling to get to everything at the moment, so I don’t know how we will manage to do so when it’s functioning at full capacity,” the employee said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Daren Butler and Frances Kerry)