National Health Co-op enters voluntary administration, affecting clinics across the city

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Eight not-for-profit clinics in Canberra, run by The National Health Co-op (NHC), have been placed under administration as the charity’s bosses say the end of JobKeeper has made it impossible to continue their work.

The NHC clinics offered low-cost health services to more than 30,000 Canberrans in a market that already has the lowest bulk-billing rates of anywhere in the country.

Michael Slaven, who was appointed administrator last night, said he is exploring options to secure the service’s future, but the services would continue for at least the next three months.

“It’s essential that we retain employees. I addressed them yesterday and I’ll be at each of the clinics over the next week and having further discussions with employees. So, at the moment we’re trying to hold it all together,” Mr Slaven said.

In a statement, ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith acknowledged the importance of the NHC for affordable health care in a market already struggling for options.

“The NHC is an important model of healthcare and a major contributor to bulk billing services in the ACT, providing affordable and accessible healthcare to thousands of Canberrans,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“We understand the NHC will continue to trade on a business-as-usual basis for the time being, with no disruption to services.”

Responding to the news on social media, many Canberrans commented that if the centres closed, it would have a huge financial impact on people with lower incomes.

“We can hardly find bulk-billing doctors in ACT already, and now with this, it’s terrible for low income and middle-class families to afford the treatments,” one woman said.

Another woman said the service was particularly handy for people with chronic illnesses, requiring multiple medical appointments.

“I will be able to manage without the co-op — but it removed the barrier of cost. I really worry how others will cope without it,” she said.

Coombs walk-in centre delayed

Ms Stephen-Smith did not speak to the future of the existing NHC clinics, but said the government’s Coombs walk-in centre, which was being developed in partnership with the health co-op and planned to open in July would still be delivered — though the timing would be delayed.

“Ongoing work with the administrator and the landlord will help the Government to understand the proposed continuation of services in Coombs,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

2019 data released by the Department of Health showed the electorate of Canberra had the lowest bulk-billing rates of anywhere in the country, with 32.9 per cent of patients having all attendances bulk-billed in 2018-19, compared to the national average of 65.27 per cent.

The electorates of Bean in the south and Fenner in the north fared slightly better, with 38.5 per cent and 46.1 per cent of patients with all attendances bulk-billed, respectively.

The National Health Co-op was established by a group of Charnwood residents 17 years ago, allowing people to pay a small annual fee to access fully bulk-billed GP services.



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