22 March 2021

Charnwood National Health Co-op clinic to close

| Dominic Giannini
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The NHC clinic in Charnwood

The NHC clinic in Charnwood will close at the end of July. Photo: Google Maps.

The National Health Co-op (NHC) medical clinic in Charnwood will close at the end of July due to the financial pressures of COVID-19.

The increasing cost of protective equipment and insufficient rent relief has led to the not-for-profit registered charity’s precarious financial position, NHC CEO Alison Wright said.

COVID-19 has placed the NHC under considerable strain and we have made the difficult decision to close our Charnwood clinic at the end of this month as part of strategic financial health measures so we can sustain these uncertain times,” Ms Wright said.

“JobKeeper has been a critical component in maintaining services; however, immediate expenses in PPE orders, costs to improve [communication technology], very little rent relief and intermittent variations in patient attendances have proved a perfect storm for the organisation.”

A longtime user of the NHC service, Jo from Scullin, says the charity has helped her and her children access treatments and consultations with ease.

READ ALSO See Charnwood Differently

“It was always so great to have quick and easy access to medical advice without worrying about how much it would cost – the membership covered everything from general appointments, referrals, skin checks and mental health consultations,” she said.

“They helped me with all of my medical concerns from diagnosing serious conditions to just offering reassurance that everything is fine.”

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the news was disappointing for many people.

“While bulk billing is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government, we know how important it is to have access to affordable primary healthcare and will continue to push for better access to bulk billing services in the ACT,” she said.

“I will be meeting with the CEO of National Health Co-op, Alison Wright [today] to discuss their current situation and future plans.

“The NHC has been clear that the closure of the Charnwood clinic is final, and that additional support provided by the ACT Government would not have changed this decision.”

Charnwood was the NHC’s first clinic, opening in 2010 next to the Brindabella Christian College. The site had the capacity for 16 clinicians who will be relocated to Macquarie and Higgins. The service will restructure its fee payments from September.

A current membership to the service costs $100 a year, plus a $30 sign up fee, although concession cardholders only pay half of the yearly fee.

The NHC has 32,000 active members and 100 staff members across 10 clinics in Yass and the ACT. It is responsible for 186,000 bulk billed appointments in Canberra every year, roughly every one in seven appointments in the ACT.

“We have proactively informed the Federal and ACT Government in the hope they will support our efforts to maintain such a critically important primary health care service in these challenging times,” said Ms Wright.

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This is often an issue for medical services in the poorer areas of Canberra. Tuggeranong has seen a number of medical services close and Charnwood is a Belconnen example.

Unfortunately market forces often don’t work in lower socioeconomic areas. The government needs to provide better support for targeted locations and provide more financial incentives such as free annual land rates.

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