Alternatives to the current means of charging female students a €20 contraception consultation fee are required, according to Méabh Flanagan.
Visiting the student doctor in UCC had been free for everyone, regardless of ailment, until last year, when economic reasons forced the introduction of fees for certain categories of visits. The most controversial of these fees is the €20 charge for ‘contraception consultations’, which are necessary for women who want prescriptions to hormonal contraceptives, such as the pill. The choices are bleak for the cash-strapped student; pay the fee and then the price of the contraceptive itself, or risk relying solely on condoms, which have 18% pregnancy rate per-year with typical use.
Student Council addressed this issue recently with the motion that Cian Power would continue to campaign for the fee to be lifted. As Welfare Officer, Power’s role on campus is to work with “sexual health and finance problems”, and he has previously attempted to have the consultation fee removed. However on the night, he opposed the motion as, in his opinion, there was no feasible chance of the fee being lifted. He also claimed that if the fee were to be removed, waiting lists would grow longer and staff would be forced to be laid off, although he did acknowledge that the fee was “in some terms sexist and antifeminist.”
The motion went on to pass, Power’s comment on the result being, “I have spoken to Dr. Byrne about the charge since starting my term as Welfare Officer. Now that I am mandated by Council, I will use the strength of council to further discuss the reduction and abolishment of the fee. I will do everything in my power to do my best for students’ welfare.”
“[Power] did acknowledge that the fee was “in some terms sexist and antifeminist.””
With all attempts to abolish the fee proving futile thus far, it’s time that a different approach was taken to this issue. One compromise would be to have all students share the financial burden. With 3,000 contraception consultations each year, some €60,000 will be raised by the fee. If the other 17,000 students who attend the doctor yearly were to pay €2.50 per visit, €42,500 would be raised. Under that model the contraception consultation could be dropped from €20 down to €5 and the Student Doctor would still be raising far more than the current €60,000.
The €2.50 fee for normal visits, which is, after all, only the price of a cup of coffee, would be enough make those with runny noses reconsider wasting a doctor’s time but it would not be enough to discourage anyone who is truly sick from attending, unlike the consultation fee. The result of this would be shorter queues, less strain on the system and the additional income could be used to improve services even further.
“With 3,000 contraception consultations each year, some €60,000 will be raised by the fee.”
And why should students mind paying €2.50? Would they not be, as Dr Michael Byrne put it, “receiving high-quality care?” A system such as this would be far more equal but we seem to have a strong opposition to it, as if we’re afraid to ask male students for €2.50 to see the doctor, while at the same time perfectly content to milk female students for €20 at a time.
Those who are completely opposed to the idea that students would have to pay €2.50 to see the doctor should be the staunchest supporters of the removal of the fee; if one student cannot be expected to pay €2.50, then it’s extremely apparent that young women cannot be expected to bear the burden of paying €20 any longer.