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Following mounting pressure from unions and MPs, the government has announced that it is to remove the fees that overseas nurses who migrate to the UK must pay to use NHS services.
In a statement from No 10, the prime minister said he had asked the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible.
“Boris Johnson is right to have u-turned and backed our proposal to remove the NHS charge for health professionals and care workers”
This is understood to include all NHS workers, including clinical staff, porters and cleaners as well as independent health workers and social care workers.
Government officials are now working to implement the change and further details are expected in the coming days.
Migrants who come to the UK must pay a fee known as the immigration health surcharge (IHS) each year.
This covers the cost of the NHS, whether they use its services or not, and on top of income tax, national insurance and other contributions.
While unions have long campaigned for the removal of this fee for NHS and social care workers, the government doubled the fee from £200 to £400 at the end of 2018.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the government announced that health and care staff working during the pandemic would be granted a free year-long extension if their visas were due to expire before October.
This included a one-off exemption for paying the IHS.
Prior to today’s announcement, there were plans to raise the fee again to £624 per adult in October 2020, with additional fees for dependents.
During today’s government briefing, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock responded to the plans to remove the IHS.
“Scrapping the unfair Immigration Health Surcharge is something our members have been demanding for two years”
He said: “I’m very pleased to be able to do that. I’ve already spoken to the home secretary and we’ll be saying more on how we do this in the next few days.
“The prime minister has clearly himself been a beneficiary of carers from abroad and we’ve talked many times during this crisis about the enormous contribution people from overseas make to the NHS and to social care.
“The purpose of the Immigration Heath Surcharge within the NHS is a fair one and the purpose is to make sure everybody contributes to the NHS but also those who work within the NHS, within social care, are themselves making that contribution directly.
“So the prime minister has made that decision and he’s asked us to make it happen.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had the point put to him this week during prime minister’s questions by leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer.
When Mr Johnson was seriously unwell after contracting Covid-19, he was vocal about the high standards of care he received from carers, some of whom were known to be overseas workers.
Sir Keir took to social media to show his support for the decision.
He Tweeted: “Boris Johnson is right to have u-turned and backed our proposal to remove the NHS charge for health professionals and care workers.
“This is a victory for common decency and the right thing to do. We cannot clap our carers one day and then charge them to use our NHS the next.”
Earlier this week, the Royal College of Nursing wrote to the home secretary asking her to drop the policy.
Responding to the announcement today, Dame Donna Kinnair, the RCN’s chief executive and general secretary, said: “Scrapping the unfair Immigration Health Surcharge is something our members have been demanding for two years.
“I welcome the news on their behalf, but it is a shame it took this pandemic for the government to see sense,” she said.
“Of course, nursing staff will only breathe a sigh of relief when they hear the details of how the Immigration Health Surcharge will be lifted.
“Overstretched health and care services will struggle to pay this from their existing budgets and government must consider that, and any action must not be limited to the NHS.”