Overseas NHS staff risk lives on frontline every day yet ‘absurd’ surcharge set to increase

The Immigration Health Surcharge is set to rise by over £200 for overseas NHS workers

Priti Patel

The Home Secretary’s decision to not to scrap the NHS surcharge for overseas NHS and Care staff has been called into question as these workers risk their lives every day fighting against coronavirus.

The NHS surcharge scheme is set to rise to £625 a year while these essential workers are out saving lives and, in some cases, paying the ultimate price to help others.

These key workers pay the same tax and national insurance as all other workers, but must also shell out an annual payment under the terms of the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS).

The charge, which is currently £400 or for students it’s £300, is charged as part of an immigration application and is then charged each year. People are only permitted to start using the NHS when their immigration application has been approved and when they have made this extra payment.

As news comes that this annual charge may rise by around £200 for overseas workers that are saving lives daily, opposition against the IHS has surged.

Chair of Doctors for the NHS and ophthalmic consultant surgeon, Mr Colin Hutchinson, said: “Let me get this straight. We have a crisis in our health and care services. Before Covid we were already short of 100,000 NHS staff and 120,000 social care staff.

“We cut the training places for doctors and nurses in 2010, so we don’t have enough homegrown graduates and there is a global shortage of doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

The surcharge needs to go, now

“Most western countries are trying to attract trained workers to their shores, so what cunning plan do we have to entice them to consider the UK as the best place to live and work?

“We already sting them for visa fees of £1220 for five years for every member of their family and £406 to register with the General Medical Council.

“In addition, every member of the family has to pay £400 a year healthcare surcharge, and these all have to be paid up front. Despite pleas, the Home Secretary is increasing the surcharge to £625 per year, for access to the very health and care services they have come to support.

“Like every family, they will already be paying National Insurance, Income Tax, VAT and all the other taxes that go to fund the NHS and the care system, so why do we expect them to pay extra for access to the services they are helping to sustain? The surcharge needs to go, now.

“The cost of coming to work in our health and care services is far greater than moving to Australia, Canada, France or Germany, all of which are fishing from the same pool, so why would anybody choose the UK? Ten out of ten for optimism, but minus five thousand for joined up thinking. Give them a clap.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the British Medical Association said it’s “more important now than ever” that all healthcare workers are exempt from paying the immigration surcharge.

I’m sure they would be dismayed to find that the Government is continuing to penalize them with this absurd fee during the crisis

“At a time when our skilled international colleagues are risking their lives – and most tragically, in some cases dying – in the fight against Covid-19, it beggar’s belief that they are still being charged to use the very service they are working for,” Dr Nagpaul said.

“And these migrants are already paying tax and national insurance like everybody else – meaning they are being charged twice for NHS treatment.

“Just weeks ago the Home Secretary said she would be reviewing the charge but it would seem the review has come to an end and disappointingly nothing is to change.”

In response to the backlash, the Home Office tweeted on Saturday, 16 May: “There is coverage of the Home Office’s position on the immigration health surcharge. As the Home Secretary Priti Patel has said, it is right that all policies are kept under review – particularly in light of the current circumstances.

“For example, the Home Office has already announced free automatic visa extensions for overseas frontline NHS workers who are working to beat the virus, including an exemption from the immigration health surcharge.

“It is wrong to suggest the Home Secretary said there would be a formal review into this policy. All government policies are continuously kept under review.”

Dr Nagpaul added: “In the last two months we’ve seen a huge outpouring of support for our frontline staff, including those talented colleagues who have come to work here from overseas, and I’m sure they would be dismayed to find that the Government is continuing to penalize them with this absurd fee during the crisis.”

The Royal College of Nursing said they too have repeatedly called for the IHS to be waived.

A spokesperson from the RCN said nurses are “already contributing through taxes and national insurance — to ask them to pay twice is simply wrong”.

They added: “This charge must be stopped. Following her announcement that the charge was being reviewed, we wrote to the Home Secretary urging action.

“We await a response and commitment to act on this.”

See also: Is this how NHS staff are rewarded? Outrage as Tories consider public sector pay freeze

Lucy Skoulding is a freelance reporter at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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