The ANU Health Service is heading into 2018 significantly understaffed, with many outgoing and current employees saying that the ANU has mismanaged crucial elements to the operation.
Working conditions at the service, which caters more than 20,000 ANU students and staff, have worsened to the point where employees are leaving the clinic.
Dr Christine Colson, who has worked at the ANU Health Service since 2003, was so affected by the process that she recently resigned. Upon her departure, Dr Colson claimed that the university “failed spectacularly” in the management process.
“I resigned because of the upheaval and poor management of the whole process,” Dr Colson told Woroni. “We were not given any information for many months, and the information we were given always turned out to be inaccurate.
“It had a devastating impact on morale — we work very well as a team, but this started and it quickly became apparent that people would lose their jobs at some point. We didn’t know how and when. It became a holding pattern,” she continued.
In her resignation letter, Colson wrote that “… I am unable to continue working in an environment which has suffered major upheavals from the disruptive external influences that have occurred over many months”.
The move to a new provider, the National Health Cooperative (NHC), is the focus of these complaints. It has now been over a year since the ANU proposed a change in ownership of the health service. In this time, many nurses and doctors have resigned in response to the proposed changes.
Discussions regarding the transition have been tense between the university and Health Service staff, with one employee, who asked not to be named for fear of their job, saying that the “proposal is a load of crap”.
The National Tertiary Education Union has also hit out at the process revealing, in a statement released this week, that remaining “doctors were encouraged by ANU Management to find alternative employment.”
“The result of ANU’s mishandling – there was once six doctors working in the practice, numbers have reduced to around one doctor, with some days having no doctors at all,” the statement read.
The NTEU’s ACT division secretary, Rachel Bahl, noted that it wasn’t just doctors who were leaving.
“One nurse is leaving at the end of the year. Another nurse position is vacant – she left in the middle of the year because she was sick of the uncertainty and so found a job somewhere else. The office manager is leaving in January.
“ANU management has basically made the Health Service such an unpleasant place to work that people have decided to leave”, stated Bahl.
Woroni understands that a total of five positions will be cut ahead of NHC’s takeover. A further four employees will reach the end of their fixed-term employment in 2019, and it is not known whether those positions will be renewed.
In a written statement, an ANU spokesman said that the university is looking forward to opening the new health centre in 2019.
“The transition to our new service provider NHC is progressing well and doctors and staff at the ANU Health Clinic have been kept up to date with information regarding the transition,” the statement read.
“Some doctors working with the ANU Health Clinic have elected to cease their licence and we’ve been working with the Health Clinic team and NHC to provide supplementary GP services to make sure there isn’t a gap in health services for the ANU community”.
Two general practitioners and one nurse have been recently hired by the NHC to fill some of these vacancies. However, one current health service employee claimed that this was not enough: in May, the average wait for a standard appointment was ten days. As of November, the wait was 20 days.
Concerns have also been raised as to whether the NHC can source the doctors required to keep the health service running in 2018. Two ANU Health Clinic employees told Woroni that the NHC is struggling to source doctors. They cited legislation that requires international doctors to work in regional areas before working in urban areas such as Acton.
In response to these claims, the NHC said that they had already supplied additional doctors to the ANU Health Clinic. The cooperative also noted that “staffing for the new ANU Clinic forms part of the NHC’s ongoing recruitment efforts”.
“The overarching goal of the NHC is to increase access to affordable healthcare, to this end, the NHC is currently working with the ANU to assess the new clinic’s likely demand,” the statement continued.
The ANU has previously suggested that students may be able to use other NHC medical centres around Canberra. From the university, the closest NHC centre is in Belconnen, with others located at Macquarie, Evatt, Higgins, and Chisholm.