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Growing healthcare co-op has right medicine for bulk billing shortage

By Ian Bushnell 2 April 2018 0

National Healthcare Co-op will add the ANU to its eight ACT clinics in 2019. Photos: Supplied.

Literally sick of looking for a bulk-billing doctor or sitting in a privately owned medical clinic queue for a few minutes of fast medicine?

Here’s the deal – $10 a month gets you access to real appointments with bulk-billing GPs and allied health professionals whose aim is to not let you get sick, and where if items are not covered by Medicare, the charge is only on a cost recovery basis.

One of only two co-operative model health care providers in the country, National HealthCare Co-op (NHC) has grown from the Charnwood community’s response to the loss of local GPs and bulk-billing services to eight clinics in the ACT – Macquarie, Evatt, Belconnen, Higgins, Kippax (Holt), Charnwood, Chisholm and Wanniassa – and one in Yass.

Next year the not-for-profit and registered charity will establish a clinic in the Australian National University’s Union Court redevelopment in a long-term deal to provide healthcare for its students and give medical students training avenues. It also brings a major bulk-billing service to the city.

NHC’s goal is to eventually establish a national network and it is identifying remaining areas of need in the ACT and looking at other regional centres such as Goulburn and Cooma.

All of its 39,000 members can attend any of the clinics.

General manager Blake Wilson said Tuggeranong, Weston Creek and Molonglo were on NHC’s radar, ‘because they are just crying out for doctors’.

“Bulk-billing rates in Canberra are woefully inadequate, whilst that exists, there is work for us to do here,” Mr Wilson said.

“We are having conversations with people all round the country who are interested in the model and exploring it.”

He said NHC was now the largest health provider in the ACT, with all income reinvested in the business.

“The goal is not to make money out of our services but just the survivability of the business and reinvestment for growth,” Mr Blake said.

As well as GPs, NHC’s ‘robust and growing’ allied health workforce includes psychologists, dieticians, physios, health educators and pharmacists.

With mental health gaining a higher profile, NHC has the largest number of bulk-billing psychologists in the ACT.

Mr Blake said NHC had a strong focus on preventative medicine, using big data to preemptively treat patients and stop them getting sick.

“We use analytics on all our data to advise people on when they are likely to get sick and pre-treat people to prevent illness,” he said.

Mr Wilson said recruiting doctors was always difficult, particularly in Canberra, but NHC had a five-year strategy to boost numbers, including a large training program.

It has a good complement of overseas doctors but the goal is to grow the number of Australian-trained doctors of which there is a fundamental shortage.

“Not a lot of people want to work in the country. We like to think that as an organisation we can do something about that by providing options for people to rotate between country and the city and get them accustomed to country life with a big support network of peers,” Mr Wilson said.

“There’s a lot we can do to change the model of a standalone surgery in the middle of a country town.

“A strong robust presence in Canberra can really help us facilitate a much broader solution to what is a pretty wicked problem from a government perspective.”

For more information go to https://www.nhc.coop/

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