22 September 2021

Five National Health Co-op clinics to become private general practices

| Dominic Giannini
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National Health Co-op waiting room

Canberra’s National Health Co-op went into voluntary administration in June. Photo: File.

Five National Health Co-op clinics across the ACT will become independent general practices in October.

The not-for-profit service entered voluntary administration in June and members were notified yesterday (21 September) that the clinics in Coombs, Evatt, Higgins, Kippax and Macquarie would be restructured into privately owned GP practices.

This means that around 30,000 Canberrans will have their health records transferred to the new clinics, ensuring a continuity of the healthcare services they received under the Co-op.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith welcomed the announcement but acknowledged that it was bittersweet.

“I think this is a really good outcome compared to what we were potentially seeing of all of those National Co-op clinics shutting down,” Ms Stephen-Smiuth said.

“The new general practice clinics being established and maintained and the continuity of service being transferred is a really positive outcome.”

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the new arrangements for the National Health Co-op were better than the alternatives facing the clinics. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The clinic at Chisholm is yet to enter into any final arrangements and conversations are continuing regarding the centre at ANU.

Ms Stephen-Smith said it was unlikely that services would be 100 per cent bulk billed due to constraints faced by GPs in the ACT.

“Each of those individual clinics will make their own arrangements. I expect the majority of them would be mixed billing but that is for them to discuss,” she said.

“I would be very surprised if any of them were 100 per cent bulk billing because we know how challenging a 100 per cent bulk-billed [clinic] is, particularly [when] the bulk-billing incentive has been removed from the ACT.

“We continue to have those conversations with the Commonwealth about the sustainability of general practices generally and the availability of bulk billing which is very low in the ACT compared to other jurisdictions.”

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Ms Stephen-Smith said Palm Healthcare had purchased two clinics, Kippax and Coombs, and the website for its Greenway clinic indicated it would bulk bill some services.

“I am hopeful that at least some of the services will continue to be bulk billed,” she said.

The new arrangements will come into effect from 2 October.

The Co-op went into administration after conceding it has accrued an “insurmountable” deficit and cited the end of JobKeeper and “recent staff changes” as contributing factors at the time.

The Charnwood clinic closed at the end of July last year.

The National Health Co-op was formed in 2010 as a not-for-profit, member-owned co-operative that provided medical and healthcare services. It was responsible for 186,000 bulk-billed appointments in Canberra every year.

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