Overseas health and care staff will be exempted from the fee levied on migrants to pay for the NHS in a U-turn from Boris Johnson which came after mounting pressure from senior Tories.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister has asked officials at the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove health and care workers from the surcharge “as soon as possible”.
Full details will be announced in the coming days, a Number 10 spokesman said.
Mr Johnson “has been thinking about this a great deal” and as a “personal beneficiary of carers from abroad” he understands the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff, the spokesman said.
“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.”
The £400 surcharge remains in place for other categories of visa applicants and will increase to £624 in October, as planned.
The change will apply to all NHS workers, ranging from medical health staff to vital porters and cleaners.
It also includes independent health workers and social care workers.
I will support the nhs fee exemption for migrant nhs and care workers. Now is the time for a generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good. I am sure that @Conservatives colleagues will be supportive.— William Wragg MP (@William_Wragg) May 20, 2020
The U-turn comes after senior Tories demanded change, with former party chairman Lord Patten calling it “appalling” and “monstrous”.
Former Conservative Party vice-chairman Sir Roger Gale had warned Mr Johnson that not to waive the current surcharge “would rightly be perceived as mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty”.
After the policy shift, 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.”
Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee chairman William Wragg called for an immediate change in policy, adding “now is the time for a generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “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.”
Following the govt's decision on the surcharge today, Donna Kinnair commented: 'Scrapping the unfair Immigration Health Surcharge is something our members have been demanding for 2 years. I welcome the news on their behalf' Read our full statement 👇https://t.co/Ie3kqFsC2Y— The RCN (@theRCN) May 21, 2020
British Medical Association council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “It’s absolutely crucial, that we recognise and value healthcare workers from overseas, who as this pandemic has clearly highlighted, provide an invaluable service protecting and looking after the health of our nation.
“The scrapping of the surcharge must come into effect immediately to show our gratitude for the effort and dedication our overseas workers give to the NHS and to their patients.”
The Royal College of Nursing’s Dame Donna Kinnair 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.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is long overdue. The pandemic has shown the enormous contribution of overseas workers to our health and care system.”
The U-turn came hours after Downing St insisted the PM was standing by the surcharge.
It also came a day after another U-turn when the Government extended a scheme offering indefinite leave to remain to the families of all NHS staff who die as a result of contracting coronavirus.
Care workers, cleaners and porters had originally been left out of the scheme, which only applied to certain occupations including nurses, biochemists and radiographers.