POLITICS
21/05/2020 16:37 BST | Updated 21/05/2020 17:34 BST

Government U-Turns On NHS Surcharge For Overseas Health Workers

Boris Johnson bows to pressure on £624 fee as Labour's Keir Starmer welcomes "a victory for common decency".

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Boris Johnson has performed a U-turn and waived heavily-criticised NHS fees being charged to migrant health and care workers on the coronavirus front line. 

The government was due to hike the immigration health surcharge from £400 to £624 this October, but now says it will be scrapped as the Covid-19 crisis grips the NHS.

The sum had been payable to all overseas workers to use the NHS and from this autumn would have seen a family-of-four hit with a bill as high as £2,500 a year. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer called the U-turn a “victory for common decency”.

The surcharge was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment but Starmer and Tory backbenchers have spoken out in recent days.

Now, Downing Street has asked for it to be removed for health and care workers “as soon as possible”. 

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “Work by officials is now underway on how to implement the change and full details will be announced in the coming days.

“As the PM said in the House of Commons, he has been thinking about this a great deal.

“He been a personal beneficiary of carers from abroad and understands the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff.

“The purpose of the NHS surcharge is to benefit the NHS, help to care for the sick and save lives.  NHS and care workers from abroad who are granted visas are doing this already by the fantastic contribution which they make.”

Speaking during prime minister’s questions in the Commons, Starmer said it would take a care worker being paid the National Living Wage – currently £8.21 an hour – about 70 hours, which is nearly two working weeks, to pay off that fee. 

SOPA Images via Getty Images
Lionel Stanhope's reworked mural on Cornwall Road under Waterloo East station in London paying tribute to NHS staff. 

Starmer welcomed the news, tweeting: “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.”

It is the second U-turn on policy on migrant health workers in recent days after Priti Patel extended the NHS bereavement scheme to include low-paid health and care staff, such as cleaners, porters and social care workers. 

Their families will now be extended indefinite leave to remain if their loved one has died after contracting coronavirus. Previously, they would have faced the threat of deportation. 

Tory MP Roger Gale, who had been criticising the PM from the backbenches for not waiving the surcharge, welcomed the move.

He said: “There will, of course, be those who will claim this as ‘another U-turn’.

“Personally, I believe that politically courageous and sensible politicians have the ability to revisit positions and to put something right if it has gone wrong.

“The prime minister has done this in the case of the NHS surcharge and he is to be applauded for so doing: it is a humane and a generous decision, and one that will enable all of those out on the doorsteps this evening to clap and cheer with even greater enthusiasm than before. “