22 June 2021

National Health Co-operative enters voluntary administration

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Canberra’s National Health Co-op was a groundbreaking healthcare model. Photo: File.

UPDATED 9.50am: Administrators for the National Health Co-operative say they are confident the embattled health service can continue trading for at least three months, given the cash flow.

Speaking to ABC Radio, Michael Slaven from Slaven Torline said that he was hopeful the NHC’s issues could be resolved within that period and that retaining staff was a key focus. Administrators are currently speaking with all staff.

The first option for the not-for-profit business is likely to be discussions with other medical practitioners.

June 22, 7.45am: Canberra’s groundbreaking National Health Co-operative has gone into voluntary administration after conceding it has accrued an “insurmountable” deficit.

Administrators Slaven Torline made an announcement to members late on Monday afternoon (21 June), citing the end of JobKeeper and “recent staff changes” as contributing factors towards an unsustainable forecast for the 2021/22 financial year.

The NHC was formed in 2010 as a not-for-profit, member-owned co-operative that provided medical and healthcare services, originally in the West Belconnen area.

The service rapidly expanded to eight locations around the ACT, employing around 90 medical and administrative staff.

Members pay a monthly fee of $10 for unlimited access to bulk-billed doctors of their choice at any NHC practice. Children under 18 are free as part of family memberships.

Membership also includes a range of allied health professionals, including dietitians, physiotherapists and access to bulk-billed psychology services.

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The model was widely praised and supported by the ACT Government for its innovation, but administrators say that despite significant efforts from the board of directors and management, the NHC has been unable to find a path to financial viability.

“The board and management have looked at further ways to address the NHC’s financial health, including the introduction of mixed billing, consolidation of clinics, a possible merger or sale, significantly increasing membership fees and a government subsidy for bulk billing clinics,” the administrators’ statement said.

“Unfortunately, none of these have proven to be viable to turn around the forecast deficit in a timely manner while staying true to the purpose of the NHC and providing affordable healthcare.”

Administrators say the NHC will operate on a business-as-usual basis during the voluntary administration period.

Bookings can continue to be made, and administrators have stressed that the NHC remains solvent and that all debts will be honoured as they fall due.

“The purpose of the voluntary administration is to allow the organisation to work with the Administrators to thoroughly explore all options for restructuring its operations in a manner which will viably support the organisation’s objectives going forward”, the statement said.

READ ALSO Charnwood National Health Co-op clinic to close

The NHC was forced to close its Charnwood clinic last year, and at the time, CEO Alison Wright said the increasing cost of protective equipment and insufficient rent relief had created a precarious financial position for the charity.

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.

Charnwood had been the NHC’s first clinic, opening in 2010 next to the Brindabella Christian College campus.

The NHC has 32,000 active members 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. Its Coombs clinic had been announced earlier this year as the venue for a new walk-in health centre.

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A medical consultation of up to 20 mins duration, including history taking, physical examination, arranging appropriate investigation, making notes, discussing necessary preventative health measures…… Fee = $38.75. If patient wants to discuss additional medical conditions during the same consult, no additional fee applies.
A Just Cut haircut…. Fee = $35.00. Shampoo and blow dry each costs extra.
What happened to NHC has demonstrated how bulk-billing is affordable for the patients but unaffordable for the service provider.

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