The lack of humour in the new situation will be felt most acutely by those who travel to the other side of the Channel, fall ill and find themselves saddled with a hefty bill for National Health Service treatment.
Negotiations between our authorities and those in the UK have identified no middle way, so the full cost of care will have to be met by individuals – unless they are students, some categories of pensioner, are being referred for care that is already being paid for, require only accident and emergency treatment, or have fallen victim to any one of the frightening infectious diseases listed as exceptions to the general rule.
The answer to this potential problem is, of course, adequate health insurance of the sort that many people already take out for travel to the continent and beyond. There are, however, Islanders who will not be able to obtain suitable cover, notably because of advanced age or established ill health. It is clear that the States should look carefully at these people’s difficulties and help them to find a special solution.
Meanwhile, the abrupt abolition of the long-standing agreement will cut both ways. With the exception of what our accident and emergency service can offer, visitors to the Island will have to pay if they require medical care, and though this will, at a stroke, put an end to ‘health tourism’, it will also pose problems. Not least among them is that the cost of health insurance will add to the already relatively high price of holidays in Jersey.
In a wider sense, the end of the reciprocal health agreement suggests that the long-standing close general relationship between Jersey and the UK is being moved on to a new and less sure footing.
Unless some new compromise can be found, we shall soon be in a situation that is unlikely to change, so Islanders will have to get used to a new set of health care ground rules. They will also have to accept that our exchequer will be deprived of over £4 million in funding provided by the UK to meet the cost of treating its citizens holidaymaking or working here.
That is how matters stand, but it is still open to question whether we have managed to negotiate the best deal. Guernsey and the Isle of Man appear to have fared better – perhaps by avoiding brinkmanship and delay in the face of inevitable change.