The charity said that some of their clients avoided going to the doctor because it was too expensive and put a ‘significant strain on their budget’.
Citizens Advice made the comments after St Helier Deputy Geoff Southern revealed that he was planning to lodge a proposition calling for a flat rate of £12 for a GP appointment.
Meanwhile, oral health charity Super Smiles has called for urgent screening of primary schoolchildren eligible for government dental care, saying over 5,000 children in Jersey were awaiting dental appointments while some face waits of up to seven years for orthodontic treatment’.
This is not the first time that Deputy Southern has lobbied for cheaper access to healthcare. In 2019, he proposed that the cost of a GP visit be reduced to £10 for pensioners, children under five and those on low incomes. That proposal was rejected but an amended scheme was agreed with Health Minister Richard Renouf in 2020, which reduced GP fees to £12 for those on income support or pension plus.
Answering a recent States written question, Social Security Minister Judy Martin said that an assessment of the Health Access Scheme was under way and would consider expanding or developing the services offered and people included.
In a statement, a Citizens Advice spokesperson said: ‘The scheme misses people who are just over the threshold for income support or who are on other benefits but still have a low income. Doctors’ fees in Jersey are also an issue for middle-earners and pensioners not on benefits.
‘We have knowledge of clients who avoid going to the doctor because they are charged between £40 and £50 for a visit and around £30 for a telephone consultation.
‘We also have clients experiencing severe financial hardship but who are only in receipt of a sickness benefit and not income support. They are paying the full price to see the doctor due to the reason they are signed off and this is a significant strain on their budget.’
Deputy Southern, a member of Reform Jersey, said that paying ‘upwards of £40 for a doctor’s visit is not affordable’ for many Islanders.
‘The problem with the current system is that only people on income support qualify for a reduced rate. I will be lodging a proposition to expand the scope of accessible medical care to the whole Island. I will be proposing that the £12 rate is made applicable to all Islanders,’ he said.
He added: ‘GPs are central to our health system and, in an ideal world, healthcare would be free for all. However, reducing the rate to £12 for everyone would be a good start. We have not increased the subsidy which the government pays towards GP fees for over a decade and that needs to change.’
Ann Esterson, a former head of Social Security and member of the Jersey Liberal Conservative movement, said there had been no ‘justifiable reason’ for freezing the government subsidy.
She said: ‘Government subsidies to GPs have not changed in over a decade. The original scheme was to cover half the cost of visiting the GP but that is no longer the case.
‘The current costs are denying some people healthcare. I have had people crying about not being able to afford to go to the doctor. There are even some people on income support who cannot afford the reduced rate. Some people have to make very difficult decisions and it should not be about that.
‘We should not let people struggle to go a doctor and I would applaud anyone who could rectify this.’