Privatised Adelaide Uni health clinic starts charging

Free medical appointments for students at the University of Adelaide’s onsite health clinic have ended after it was sold off, despite an assurance from the private owner that they would remain.

Aug 08, 2022, updated Aug 08, 2022
University of Adelaide Student Representative Council officer James Wood and Nix Herriot. Photo: Jason Katsaras

University of Adelaide Student Representative Council officer James Wood and Nix Herriot. Photo: Jason Katsaras

Last week the University Health Practice, formerly owned by the university, announced it would be applying a fee to all patients, citing rising costs as the reason for the change.

“The Medicare rebate does not fully cover the cost of providing good quality care, the rebate has been kept at the same level for many years whilst costs have increased much more,” the statement read.

“We cannot increase the fees any more for these groups that already pay; the bulk of our patients (students and patients on concession cards) will also need to help fund the true cost of providing care.”

In May last year, the university sold its four general practice clinics (Unicare) in South Australia, including the practice at the North Terrace campus, to private, for-profit operator Better Medical Group. However, bulk billing for services to students remained.

At the time, an email from the University of Adelaide’s chief operating officer Bruce Lines told staff a key aim was “to work with Better Medical to ensure the services provided to staff and students at the North Terrace campus practice are not affected”.

In June that year, On Dit reported in June 2021 that Better Medical had maintained no changes would be made to bulk-billing arrangement with domestic students.

The about-face has sparked outrage from staff and students who believe the new gaps will result in poorer health outcomes.

National Tertiary Education Union Adelaide branch president Virginie Masson said there was no consultation with the union before the sale of Unicare last year.

“At no time were we told that a fee would be introduced for students,” Masson said.

“The NTEU is very concerned that this change will affect whether students decide to access health care, especially at a time where costs of living are increasing rapidly, meaning students will have to choose between buying food or visiting a GP.”

Adelaide Unicare was originally set up in the 1980s as a not-for-profit, for students, staff and general public.

Student Representative Council environment officer Nix Herriot said students were extremely concerned with the change.

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“It seems like the whole uni’s for sale now to the highest bidder,” Herriot said.

“When services are cut, students are given a guarantee that it won’t impact the quality or the price of services, but I think that’s been proven a lie.”

Herriot said despite the fees starting at only $11.75 for a standard GP visit, there are fears this will increase in future.

“Like most fees, things start off with a very small price, but I think there’s a logic over time to increase that.”

SRC education officer James Wood said online student forums had seen dozens of students expressing their frustration with the change.

“The big worry is the fact that you have to pay up front the full fee to only then afterwards get a partial rebate,” he said.

“I think people might just reconsider going to the doctor, which is a real worry when you’ve got a lot of people who have been commenting saying they have chronic illnesses or disabilities.”

On Thursday, the SRC passed a unanimous motion to demand the return of bulk billing and reverse the selloff.

A spokesperson for the University of Adelaide said when UniCare was sold to Better Medical in May last year it “sought assurances that the quality and accessibility of services would remain”.

“The university’s primary concern is for the welfare of our staff and students,” the spokesperson said.

“The university is actively engaging with Better Medical to address student and staff concerns and ensure that services are delivered with the best interests of our community in mind.”

Better Medical chief marketing officer Briar Buttfield said when the group acquired University Health Practice from the university in August 2021, “we did not anticipate significantly changing existing fees.”

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