Why? Because more than 50 per cent of survey respondents said that they find the cost of visiting the doctor or dentist so high that they forego routine health checks.
This does not, of course, mean that there is anything wrong with the quality of treatment that patients receive when they do go to see their GP or dentist. Indeed, the medical services available in the Island have a reputation for excellence.
It does, however, mean that an important feature common to modern medicine and modern dentistry – preventative care – may be denied to a significant numbers of people because they see it as a luxury beyond their means. Moreover, for obvious reasons, the less well-off in our community will be the least likely to seek health checks.
Assessing the adverse effects of the deterrent influence of high medical charges was beyond the scope of the survey, but it is reasonable to assume that a proportion of those who do not go regularly to see a doctor or a dentist inadvertently delay the diagnosis of serious illness.
As the Deputy Medical Officer of Health, Dr Susan Turnbull, has said, this is a matter for concern – especially in an Island which prides itself on the quality of its health care and its theoretical availability to everyone, regardless of income or status.
Some might say that the remedy for the present state of affairs could be found very easily if doctors and dentists were to charge lower fees. Frankly, that is unlikely to happen. Medical professionals in private practice are, in spite of their vocational duty and the part played by States subsidy in our health sector, in business and are unlikely to volunteer to relinquish rewards that they currently enjoy.
If anything is to be done to encourage more people to go for routine check-ups the initiative will almost certainly have to come from government. That said, any policy change should certainly be carefully targeted, rather than taking the shape of an across-the-board increase in subsidy.
A great many Islanders can already afford the very best in medical and dental care without counting the cost. Action must be for the benefit of those who have to think seriously about whether the attention of a GP or dentist is affordable.