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The government has performed a U-turn on a policy which could have seen the families of some overseas NHS staff killed by Covid-19 deported.
Home secretary Priti Patel has extended the indefinite leave to remain offer to include to staff such as porters, cleaners and care workers.
It comes after Labour’s Yvette Cooper called the government’s refusal to do so “deeply unfair” and “unthinkable”.
The extension of the NHS bereavement scheme is effective “immediately and retrospectively” and comes after Patel confirmed in a letter to the home affairs select committee that doctors and nurses were included while other low-paid staff were not.
In her change of tack, Patel said: “Every death in this crisis is a tragedy, and sadly some NHS support staff and social care workers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of saving the lives of others.
“When I announced the introduction of the bereavement scheme in April, I said we would continue to work across government to look at ways to offer further support. Today we are extending the scheme to NHS support staff and social care workers.
“We want to ensure families have the support they need and so this will be effective immediately and retrospectively.”
Leave to remain applies to all hospital support workers including cleaners and porters, social care staff and care home workers, the Home Office said.
Cooper told HuffPost UK: “It is very good news that the government has finally agreed to extend the bereavement scheme to the families of social care workers and NHS support staff who die on the front line.
“The home affairs committee has been pressing on this for weeks. It would be unthinkable to ask a family who had lost a loved one as a result of caring for people with Covid-19 to leave their home and the country when they have already given so much to the UK fighting against this awful virus.”
Fears remain that overseas health workers will not be treated fairly, however.
It was unclear from Patel’s letter whether she would attempt to bar the same group from the government’s life assurance scheme, which sees families receive an automatic £60,000 payout if their relative dies on the coronavirus front line.
The prime minister also confirmed in the Commons on Wednesday that the government’s immigration health surcharge, which from October will see all migrants pay a £624 ‘immigration health surcharge’, regardless of whether they travel here to work on the Covid front line.
Cooper also added it was “still very unfair that those low paid workers are not included in the free visa extension”.