The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defied calls from professional bodies to scrap the Immigration Health Surcharge for migrant health and care staff from outside the EU. The charge, which currently stands at £400 a year is due to rise to £624 in October, has attracted particular controversy since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said the NHS ‘needs funding and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900m.’
Mr Johnson was responding to a question from Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, contrasting the ritual of clapping for carers with expecting some of these workers to pay a surcharge of ‘hundreds sometimes thousands of pounds to use the NHS themselves’.
‘I’ve thought a great deal about this and I do accept and understand the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff and, like him, I’ve been a personal beneficiary of carers who have come from abroad and, frankly, saved my life,’ but said the NHS would find it ‘very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources’ to cover the funding gap if the scheme were scrapped altogether.
Sir Keir said the response was disappointing, adding that from October, ‘a care worker on the national living wage will have to work for 70 hours to pay off that fee.’
Doctors, nurses and paramedics have been granted a one-year exemption from the charge, but foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said on Monday there were no plans to extend the same benefit to care workers.
The RCN this week wrote to the Home Secretary to request that the policy be reconsidered‘as a matter of urgency’. ‘We have already received devastating accounts from members who are struggling to pay the charge, and the impact that it is having on their families’ lives,’ said Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the RCN.
‘The current pandemic has served to reaffirm the importance of our internationally educated staff. Without them here, patient care would be at risk. This charge undermines the dedicated care overseas health and care staff provide to us all.’