Members vote against £12 flat fee for GP visits

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Deputy Geoff Southern had lodged an amendment to the Government Plan, calling for the £12 fee – which is currently available to some Islanders under the Health Access Scheme, which supports those on Income Support and pensioners on lower incomes – to be extended to everyone.

The Deputy has regularly campaigned for cheaper GP appointments, citing fears that some Islanders were having to forego doctor’s appointments because they could not afford them, while others were turning to the Hospital’s Emergency Department for treatment.

Speaking yesterday on the second day of the Government Plan debate, the Reform Jersey Deputy said that doing away with means testing, and introducing universal coverage, ‘would be the single most effective way of improving people’s standard of living’.

‘The cost of healthcare in this island, such as a consultation with a GP, for the majority who do not have the Health Access Scheme, is of the order of £45, and creeping up as we deliberate today,’ he added.

The backbencher also called on Health Minister Richard Renouf and Social Security Minister Judy Martin to ‘abandon their plans to scrap the Health Insurance Fund’ by 2025, while a full review of future health costs was completed.

‘The picture is dire,’ said Deputy Southern.

The Health Insurance Fund is used to subsidise GP fees and prescriptions but fears have been growing that changes to the way in which the Island seeks to deliver care could impact the future costs of visits to the doctor.

A total of £44 million from the HIF is being earmarked over the next four years to help fund the Jersey Care Model, with leading GP Dr Nigel Minihane last month stating that the cost of GP visits may have to rise if the HIF was exhausted. Under the plans, the fund, which stood at £107 million last year, would be reduced to £47 million by 2025. That is the amount typically spent by the fund each year.

Deputy Southern wanted £13 million to be taken from a £20m proposed technology fund to fund his proposed changes next year, saying government money ‘disappeared’ into digital but not primary care. However, Deputy Martin said it was uncertain how the potential scheme would be funded in future years.

Instead, she said that ‘we should target the money correctly’, saying she believed that the cost of the scheme would be higher than Deputy Southern predicted.

But Deputy Rob Ward said the ‘reality’ of the current GP system was that Islanders put off going to see a doctor owing to the costs.

‘What we need is a system here where we can access GPs,’ said Deputy Ward, who urged fellow politicians to support ‘equitable fees’.

Health Minister Richard Renouf said the government had already committed itself to a ‘major review’ with GPs and those in primary care about how future costs would be funded.

‘We know demand for healthcare will increase in the future,’ he said.

States Members voted down the parts of Deputy Southern’s amendment relating to expanding reduced GP costs and including a funding solution in the 2023 Government Plan by 31 votes to 14. The proposal to transfer money from the tech fund was defeated by 35 to 11. However, Members did approve, by 43 votes to two, a section of the amendment, confirming that the role of the HIF in subsidising GP costs would continue during the review of the fund.

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