Imagine this. You are a pensioner. You are going to the hospital for an early appointment. You get on the bus. Your neighbours who also catch the bus are getting on behind you. “Can I see your appointment letter, please?” says the bus driver. And you show him the appointment letter, which shows that you have an appointment at the oncology department that morning.
You have cancer. The bus driver knows it. The neighbour knows something is wrong with your health, because you are showing a letter from health. They may even be able to glimpse part of the letter and read the words “oncology”. This is not an enclosed environment. The bus driver has not been told to make sure no one else can see that information, as he might were it a pin number for a debit card.
After all, most hospitals have this kind of policy. “Details of your outpatient clinic visits, stays in hospital, appointment letters will not be released without your explicit consent.” Jersey wants to add the codicil, unless you want free bus travel at peak times, in which case you should show your bus driver.
This information is about your health. In an office, it would be protected by the Data Protection Act and considered highly sensitive personal data. The human resources department would know about it, but access to that information would be kept tightly under control.
On the bus, however, you have shown that you are unwell and have a hospital appointment, and the bus driver has probably seen when he glanced at the letter what department you are going to – and therefore what kind of medical condition you have.
It’s not the bus driver’s fault. He’s just doing what he has been told to do by the Minister, Eddie Noel, who never stopped to consider that Data Protection and highly sensitive medical data might just be something you don’t want to share with people when he few the kite of pensioners paying at peak times on the buses.
Has the bus driver been given any training in Data Protection? Does he ensure that when he sees the letter, the person in the queue behind you can’t see any details? Have you been told to fold it other to keep it from prying eyes?
And even the act of asking has informed the nosy neighbour that you are unwell. “Sorry to see you are not well,” she says, fishing for gossip. You can tell her it is private, but you can’t stop her knowing you are going to the hospital. The very fact that you needed to show an appointment letter betrayed that.
It is like being in an office, where HR knows about your medical condition, but someone says you have to tell the receptionist before you go to the hospital and show them your letter!
And of course you might be going to an early morning appointment at your doctor’s surgery. You need tests done – perhaps for diabetes, which requires no food or drink in the morning and an early appointment. The GP has to now provide a letter of appointment – and will that be free?
But you are retired, and you are not going to the hospital or your doctor. So why are you travelling early? You are travelling over to your son and daughter in laws house to baby-sit your grandson (unpaid naturally) so that they can go to work. Now you have to pay, or your son or daughter in law does, in order that they can go to work. There’s less money all round, and in times of austerity, the poorer households will be penalised as usual.
And another case – you are retired and you work for a voluntary organisation or charities. You start work at a 'normal' time. Why should you have to pay fares to get to jobs they're not paid for? Should the charity shop open later in the morning?
I think that the majority of people over the age of 65 are entitled to a bus pass. They have spent the last 40+ years of their working lives paying tax and social security. What do they have in return? A bus pass, and a pension which will be reduced this year as Minister for Meannesss, Senator Scrooge is cancelling the Christmas bonus.
Meanwhile, States members enjoy free parking. I know some take the bus, but most do not. Perhaps they should pay something towards their own parking, which would be a token but important saving.
In London, of course, under Boris Johnson, matters have gone the other way. Pensioners have a “Freedom Pass”.
A Spokesperson for Mr Johnson said “We are delivering a Freedom Pass double whammy – Not only can pensioners now make their early morning doctors appointments without the worry of paying for travel, they also no longer have to face the indignity of standing at a bus stop waiting not for a bus, but for the clock to tick past 9:30. We are truly delivering a Freedom Pass that lives up to its name.”
For Jersey’s pensioners, Minister Eddie Noel is reversing in the opposite direction, and there will be less freedom, and when pensioners have to show the bus driver their appointment letter, just that tad less dignity as well.