€176,000 of Health Centre fees left unpaid since 2009

The UCD Health Service, in consultation with UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) Executive Committee, have changed their payment policy in order to combat the percentage of non-payments reaching 55% in 2013. This represented a total amount of non-paid debt worth €176,000 since 2009.

This revision of the payment system means students will no longer be provided with a ten-day grace period in which to pay their outstanding consultation fees. The new scheme will require all students to pay the full amount of their bill immediately after their consultation and also revokes the ability to pay online.

Speaking to the University Observer, Dr. Sandra Tighe, Medical Director at the UCD Health Service, said the reason behind changing the payment process was “because of a large amount of unpaid debt; €176,000 since we first started charging [in 2009]. It’s normal practice if you go to your GP surgery or if you go for anything it is normal to pay at the time.”

UCD Health Service fees were introduced in 2009 in order to solve funding and staffing problems that the centre was experiencing at the time. The UCD Health Centre website also states that the introduction of fees would also provide a platform for further services to be introduced.

Commenting on the additional services that were planned to be introduced, Dr. Tighe said, “Due to financial constraints in the University there haven’t really been any significant additional services. It was just maintaining the service rather than any significant additions.”

Some UCD students, meanwhile, have criticised the lack of a public campaign to make students aware of the changes in how their Health Centre charges will be processed. Other students have claimed that they have received no warning about the new system, even when they called to book an appointment for themselves.

In relation students complaints about not receiving adequate warning about the alterations to the payment process, Dr. Tighe said, “We’ve only just started, so we haven’t had a general email out to students as yet. It is on the website and there were notices up in the waiting room in the weeks prior.”

UCDSU President, Mícheál Gallagher, said that the decision to change payment policy was made in the best interests of the UCD Health Service. “The changes to the Student Health Centre’s payment system were made in consultation with the SU Executive [Committee] last May.

“The Union realised that, to have a sustainable healthcare system in place for students going into the future, a change needed to occur. Since 2009, more resources have been put in place for counselling, which is free to all students, while additional resources have also been allocated to administration to ensure that the centre is run as efficiently as possible.”

Gallagher stressed that the sustainability of the service is paramount and measures had to be taken in order to counteract the numbers of students not paying their Health Centre fees.

Students who rely on the Welfare Fund and other assistance funds to pay their Health Centre fees could be affected by this alteration to the payment process, which could force them to pay out of their own pocket.

Gallagher was keen to address this issue, highlighting that plans to reform the Student Welfare and Assistance fund are already afoot. “The Union in association with the University’s Student Welfare and Assistance Committee developed the Byrne Report, 2013, in which recommendations were put to University Management Team about how to reform student financial assistance.”

These new measures to assist students are due to be implemented from October 2013, although it is unclear what alternative service will be provided in the interim.