Out of service


With the contraceptive clinic in the Student Health Service being forced to discontinue its services, Zelda Cunningham highlights the flaws in health cutbacks.

It has emerged this fortnight that the Student Health Service no longer has sufficient funding to continue providing a contraceptive clinic to students. This will mean that no time will be specifically allocated by health service staff to giving students prescriptions for the contraceptive pill nor will they offer particular hours for students to come with concerns regarding contraception.

healthcentreAlthough doctors and nurses in the clinic will obviously still help students with their concerns, access to medical staff will be restricted to the regular hours of the health service.

The contraceptive clinic was of intrinsic importance to students. For many students, university is the time when they become more sexually active. Feeling that they could not possibly attend a family doctor to request to be put on the contraceptive pill, young women in UCD need to feel there is an easy way to be prescribed the pill while at university.

No one would ever doubt or downplay the importance of contraception during this period in a person’s life; however, sapping funding from the contraceptive clinic seems to send a message that the university is not prioritising this issue.

The Student Health Service is undoubtedly one of the most vital and valuable facilities for students, offering medical advice and treatment at minimum cost to those who may not avail of such services were they to be costly. However, even before recession doom and gloom became so ubiquitous, the health service had been under immense strain. The clinic has been under-staffed, staff were over-worked and frustrating waiting times for patients were a common feature of the service.

Naturally, when the entire country is struggling to overcome the difficulties of the economic downturn, universities and third-level institutes are going to take a hit. We have become accustomed to the news that services and facilities that we have become used to being withdrawn, and for the most part, students cannot expect to be immune from such shortfalls in funding. However, one can argue that health, particularly sexual health, should be one of the last bastions of funding by the university.

“a service like the Student Health Service is, like a hospital in a town, something that shouldn’t be treated like ‘just another facility”

Students are a transient group. In their few years at university, they generally aren’t represented politically and, unfortunately, are not considered a large impact group in terms of national policy. UCD tries to market itself as a ‘community’ and with approximately 25,000 students in Belfield; it is the size of a small town. University is a place where students can exercise control over their environment. However, in an era of constant cutbacks, a level of this control is naturally mitigated by extenuating circumstances.

However, a service like the Student Health Service is, like a hospital in a town, something that shouldn’t be treated like ‘just another facility’. The service is undoubtedly suffering because of the economic downturn, but students are suffering because of the recession also.

The Student Health Service, by its very nature, was founded in acknowledgement that while students are in university, they are a vulnerable group.

Most students in UCD are not working in full-time positions and are not earning particularly large wages. While some would argue that students’ parents will just foot the bill, the actual reality of the situation is that parents may not be able to afford such payments or students may not want to ask for the money, particularly if the health issue is sex-related.

This is combined with the lifestyle change students endure upon embarking on a university education, especially for students who have just left their parental home. Generally, students begin to consume more alcohol, eat fewer healthy meals and often have more sexual experiences, which all have negative effects on a person’s health.

Students need a facility to ensure that their health can be easily checked. With the ever-increasing financial difficulties the Student Health Service has to bear, the reality is that the service will be ever-more down-sized and perhaps even eventually discontinued.

Some will argue that if the proposed re-introduction of third-level fees is followed through, these services will gain extra funding and be able to continue operations. However, even if that was the case, for a lot of students, the point would be moot as they wouldn’t even be able to attend university.

Like everything in Ireland at the moment, UCD is undergoing a difficult balancing act with regards to its funding. No one wants to see cutbacks in academic programmes, library opening hours or indeed, the Student Health Service, but cutbacks will have to be made somewhere.

Earlier this year, UCD President, Dr Hugh Brady announced to staff members that the university would be €20 million in debt by 2010 if serious cutbacks weren’t made in UCD. However, with construction already underway of a mammoth new student centre, which will include a debating chamber, cinema and extended health centre; it is difficult for students to comprehend how this extended service will be funded, if the current, much smaller health service is struggling to survive.