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”.
Tory peer and former party chairman Lord Patten called the Government’s position “appalling” and “immoral”.
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”.
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.
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
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.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “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?”
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.”
I strongly believe that the £400 charge should be waived for those immigrants currently working in the health and care services and saving livesSir Roger Gale
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.”
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 withinSecurity Minister James Brokenshire
Speaking on the Emma Barnett Show on BBC Radio 5Live, Lord Patten said “it’s monstrous that people who come from oversees to help and risk their lives aren’t treated properly”.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) has written to all newly elected Tory MPs to urge them to vote against the Government on the “unjust and unfair'” surcharge.
But Security Minister James Brokenshire said Mr Johnson was “right” to reject the calls on Wednesday as the issue with care workers and other NHS staff is “complicated because of the visa and immigration system that they are likely to be within”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government “continue to keep this under review”.
NHS hospital cleaner Hassan Akkad said he disagrees with the health surcharge, which is a financial burden for many migrant workers.
The Syrian refugee told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “For me to pay that fee, I can tell you that I have to work for 10 days. And it doesn’t make any sense because we’re doing this job despite the risk of it.
“So for us to be charged to access the very same institution or the same establishment, the NHS, it doesn’t make sense.”