Tory MPs back call to scrap NHS fee for overseas workers
Leading Tory MPs have declared their support for Labour’s call to scrap the fees some overseas health workers are charged to use the NHS.
Former Conservative Party vice-chairman Sir Roger Gale warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that not to waive the current surcharge “would rightly be perceived as mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty”.
Meanwhile, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee chairman William Wragg said “now is the time for a generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good”.
Politicians and healthcare workers have called on the Government to scrap the NHS surcharge for migrant care workers coming from outside the European Economic Area.
The current surcharge is £400 per year and is set to rise to £624 in October.
Labour, the Scottish National Party and the Royal College of Nursing have expressed the view that health workers should be exempt from the “unfair” charge.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said a care worker on the National Living Wage would have to work for 70 hours “to pay off the fee”.
“Every Thursday we go out and clap for our carers. Many of them are risking their lives for the sake of all of us.
“Does the Prime Minister think it’s right that care workers coming from abroad and working on our front line should have to pay a surcharge of hundreds – sometimes thousands of pounds – to use the NHS themselves?”, Sir Keir asked at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
But Mr Johnson rejected the calls, telling the Commons that he understood the “difficulties” NHS staff face but that the country cannot afford to scrap the charges in the current climate.
The PM said: “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.
“On the other hand we must look at the realities – this is a great national service, it’s a national institution, it needs funding and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900 million, and it’s very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources.
“So, with great respect to the point (Sir Keir) makes, I do think that is the right way forward.”
But Sir Roger disputed the cost, suggesting that, while he has no doubt that Mr Johnson provided the £900 million figure “in good faith”, it is “a total figure for the sum collected and not the amount actually received annually from health and care service-employed immigrants”.
“That figure is a fraction of the total sum – probably not more than £50 million,” he said.
“I have tabled a written question to secure the correct details from the Home Office, but, in the meantime, I strongly believe that the £400 charge should be waived for those immigrants currently working in the health and care services and saving lives.
“To do otherwise would rightly be perceived as mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty – and the Prime Minister has none of those failings.”
Meanwhile, Security Minister James Brokenshire said Mr Johnson was “right” to reject the calls on Wednesday as the issue is “complicated”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The situation in relation to those people working within different functions in the NHS is more complicated because of the visa and immigration system that they are likely to be within.
“In other words, if you are a doctor and nurse then you are on a specific visa when we have that direct contact with the NHS trust.
“For those in social care, it is more disparate, which makes it more complicated and more challenging in terms of the situation.”
He added that the Government “continue to keep this under review”.