Visiting the National Health Co-op

It was with great pleasure that last week I was invited to visit the premises of a National Health Co-op to find out more about this exciting initiative. I was met by the Chair of the Board, Brian Frith, and Blake Wilson, General Manager and Deputy CEO.

On first impressions it give the appearance of being just another doctor’s surgery, but I was sincerely impressed when I was taken on a tour of the premises, and as Brian and Blake explained more of the initiative.

The National Health Co-op is a not-for-profit, member owned co-operative. It provides affordable medical and healthcare services to the communities where it operates. Their goal is to provide access to affordable healthcare to all Australians. This will help to significantly reduce instances of preventable diseases and lessen the personal and societal impact of chronic conditions.

The National Health Co-op has a very unusual pricing structure. Once you have signed up for membership, you have unlimited access bulk-billed to doctors of your choice at any of their eight clinics here in the ACT. I was surprised at how low the membership costs were. But for those on concession cards, this is lowered by fifty percent. And those who can demonstrate hardship can get access to free membership. All appointments are bulk-billed.

The Coop’s concept to bulk-bill is in response to the low number of doctors who bulk bill in the ACT. Which makes it very difficult for patients from low incomes, or families. The ACT has the lowest number of doctors who bulk bill. According to the Federal Department of Health, 83.7 per cent of GP visits across Australia in the 2015-16 financial year were bulk-billed. In the ACT, 55.6 per cent were bulk-billed.

Initiated in 2004, the Coop was formed in response to the lack of GPs in the north western suburbs of Canberra. A committee was established, and with Capital funding from the Federal Government, the first GP Clinic was opened in 2010. They now have eight clinics, employing more than ninety medical staff. This includes GP’s, nurses, nurse practitioners, dietitians, exercise physiologist, pharmacists, obstetrician, and the list goes on.

But perhaps their greatest achievement is the focus on health education. Using data analytics, the National Health Co-op actively monitor and target outreach for ten different health conditions. These include asthma, childhood obesity, heart health, diabetes and the list goes on. Patients identified with these health conditions, or with potential problems, are encouraged to attend health education sessions, such as the National Health Co-op’s nationally recognised Lifestyle Modification program, which provides individuals with tools to help manage chronic disease and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The success of the National Health Co-op is due to the positioning of its clinics in areas of greatest need. More than 33,000 people have taken up membership, from all over Canberra and the region. The National Health Co-op is looking to expand its business over the border and beyond into other areas across the country.

The National Health Co-op has a strong commitment to innovation, clinical excellence and patient outcomes. It was a pleasure to meet the CEO and General Manager, and I look forward to hearing of their expansion into the future.