‘McMedicine’: Woolies flame-grilled over its naturopath consults

The supermarket giant denies its healthcare service is a hook for supplement sales.
Dr Nicole Higgins.

Woolworths’ new venture into healthcare, including free naturopath consultations, has been branded “McMedicine”, with the supermarket giant accused of trying to hook people into buying its supplements.

Sold as a solution to GP shortages and a collapse in bulk-billing, it has been attempting to recruit GPs to offer $45 telehealth consults, along with e-scripts and medical certificates.

Six months since it was announced, the Woolies GP service is not yet up and running, with its website stating it is “coming soon”.

But customers can now book free 15-minute ‘discovery calls’ with naturopaths to discuss “nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, dietary advice or general health recommendations”.

RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins is branding it “McMedicine”, saying there is a huge conflict of interest given Woolworths has “aisles full of supplements”.

But the supermarket giant is defending its approach.

“Our 15-minute naturopath discovery calls are designed to be an introduction to a naturopath and not intended to be a full clinical consultation,” a spokesperson told AusDoc.

They stress that the consultation calls are with “a degree-qualified naturopath” who offers lifestyle advice on sleep, movement and mindfulness to aid in prevention and health promotion. 

“It’s important to note our in-house health professionals provide independent advice. They do not have product sales targets, nor do they receive commission from product sales.”

The Woolies’ Healthylife website includes profiles of the naturopaths it has recruited.

Ebony Nash says she has “a passion for treating the underlying drivers of thyroid disorders and hormonal imbalances, naturally”.

Ricky van den Ende says he “places great importance on the role of supplements in optimal health”.

Another, Cathy Abel, states that she “often works with women that are going through the perimenopause/menopause transition utilising a holistic approach combined with evidence-based treatments”.

And the fourth practitioner, Gabbie Watt, a former radiation therapist, says she has a background in conventional medicine, which “has been instrumental in shaping her holistic approach to health”.

While the Healthylife website includes the disclaimer that the service is not intended to replace “usual medical or naturopathic care”, with customers referred back to their usual naturopath or GP, the college is dismissive.

“We are really concerned that our most vulnerable patients, at a time of a cost-of-living crisis, are being targeted by big business to be given some scam healthcare advice,” Dr Higgins told the ABC.

“Naturopaths are there to maybe have a discussion around prevention and lifestyle but certainly not there for diagnosis and management of illness.

“We don’t want to go down McMedicine-style delivery.

“We need to think, ‘Why would a big business step into healthcare?’ It’s because they think there is money to be made. [The naturopath service] is not there because [Woolworths] is concerned about patient health.”

Read more: Is general practice in danger of a Coles- and Woolies-type takeover?

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