The university will not withdraw a subsidy for medical certificates this September, after questioning from the students’ union revealed there was no evidence for a claimed increase in requests. 

In July, Concrete reported new students registered at the University Medical Centre (UMS) would have to pay £35 for a UEA Medical Certificate from 1 September. The charge would be phased in over three years and apply to the certificates needed for extensions and extenuating circumstances.

At the time, Director of Student Support Services Dr Jon Sharp said: “We have seen an exponential increase in students seeking medical certificates and UMS has noted that many do not present with any diagnosable symptoms.”

However, the number of medical certificates issued by the UMS actually saw a 15 percent decrease over the last three academic years.

The number of certificates issued in the last three years declined from 2476 in 2014-15 to 2250 in 2015-6 and 2094 in 2016-7.

Campaigning by the students’ union revealed the university has no record of how many students have requested and been denied medical certificates.

The university said new students will not have to pay the charge this year and they will collect appropriate data about requests for the certificates.  

Dr Sharp said: “The university, in consultation with the students’ union, has decided to postpone the introduction of a new policy which would have resulted in new students who register with the University Medical Centre paying for their medical certificates, as happens in other GP practices.

“This one year postponement has been agreed so that further data can be gathered on the likely impact of the cost on students and plans put in place to ensure that any negative impacts are mitigated.  New students, starting in September 2017 and who register with the University Medical Centre, will not be billed by this medical practice for certificates.”

SU Welfare Community and Diversity Officer India Edwards said the decision to instate the charge on students without relevant evidence on the issue concerned her.

She said:  “It was one thing for the uni to say it needed to make students pay because of an ‘exponential’ rise in demand – but when we found out that the number of medical certificates issued last year was at its lowest since 2013, something didn’t add up.

“And when it then said it wanted to discourage ‘chancers’ from asking for a medical certificate for their extension, without evidence or figures to back up the claim that there were any, it insulted the student body and ran the risk of putting genuine students off from asking for help in the first place.”

Ms Edwards added: “We all get things wrong, but given what students love about UEA is the strong community on campus, we’re pleased in this case that uni management has done the right thing and listened to students’ concerns.

“Let’s hope we can spend the rest of the year working on a much more positive health agenda with the uni- addressing big issues like access to mental health support, the costs faced by students accessing prescriptions and making sure students can get appointments when they need them.”

A petition to reinstate the subsidy garnered more than 1,500 signatures. The petition’s author, second-year History student Thomas Howard, said he felt the university had “failed to consult with students, failed to consider alternative options, and failed to obtain student feedback”.

He said: “It was clear that no real thought, nor consultation, went into the formation of this policy.”

“This half baked policy will be delayed, but that is not a victory. Me and over 1500 supporters have not been fighting for a delay to this regressive policy, we’ve been fighting for it to be scraped.”

Clive Lewis the MP for Norwich South said he had signed the petition to reinstate the subsidy.

He tweeted: “Students who need support shouldn’t be penalised for seeking it. £35 would leave a sizeable dent in the budget of UEA’s poorest students, potentially discouraging them from applying – or heaping more stress onto them during an already difficult time if they do.”