Calls for NHS fees for migrant nurses to be dropped
Migrants working in the NHS should not be charged for access to the health service, leading nurses have said.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called on the Government to drop up-front fees for non-EU nurses, which it said are tearing families apart.
The immigration health surcharge is paid by people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who are seeking to live in the UK for six months or more to work, study, or join family.
Under the system, introduced in 2015, migrants must pay a £200 fee per family member for every year on their work permit.
It was announced in February that the surcharge would double to £400 later this year.
Rates for students and those on the Youth Mobility Scheme will also increase, from £150 to £300 per year.
In a keynote address to the RCN annual conference, chief executive Janet Davies is expected to call for nurses - and family members they are expected to pay for - to be exempt from the charges.
She will also warn ministers against extending the fees to EU migrants after Brexit.
"When facing staff shortages in NHS and care, the UK has depended on professionals from around the world," Ms Davies will say on Sunday.
"We are proud as a profession to have the best and brightest from over 200 countries around the world.
"But the Government now seems hell-bent on showing, through its handling of Brexit and the treatment of people from the wider world, that they're no longer welcome."
She will highlight the case of Evaline Omondi, a nurse from Kenya who was asked to pay £3,600 up front to cover three years of fees for two adults and four children.
Ms Omondi, who works in Luton, Bedfordshire, had to send her youngest children, aged six and eight, back to Kenya as a result.
"Many of the Windrush generation were our valued colleagues for many years," Ms Davies will say.
"It was shocking and embarrassing to see Britain being heartless, divisive and plain old nasty.
"It is shameful that families are being torn apart by this policy too - uprooting children from their family, friends and school. The Government must not put Spanish, Portuguese or Italian colleagues through same after Brexit.
"I say to the Government today: these people keep the NHS running. They are the very last people who should ever be sent upfront invoices for healthcare - get your priorities in order."
Ms Omondi said the introduction of the surcharge fee was "an awful moment".
She was forced to take out loans and was left unable to meet visa and childcare costs.
"A family who came together is now in pieces, scattered all over the place," she said.
"I try to speak to them on the phone before they sleep but it is hard with the time difference and my work, so I sometimes don't get to talk to them."
Ms Omondi will lead a debate on the issue at the conference, which is taking place in Belfast.
Almost 25,000 nurses from outside the EU are working in the NHS in England, the RCN said.
A Home Office spokesman said: "The Government fully recognises the contribution that international professionals make to the UK and to our health service.
"The surcharge offers access to health care services that are far more comprehensive and at a much lower cost than many other countries.
"The income generated goes directly to NHS services, helping to protect and sustain our world-class healthcare system for everyone who uses it."