Boris Johnson refuses to scrap ‘grossly unfair’ charge on overseas health workers using NHS

Boris Johnson has refused to scrap a charge on overseas health workers for using the NHS, claiming the Government would struggle to find alternative sources of cash.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said many health workers are “risking their lives” during the Covid-19 pandemic, but questioned whether it was right that those who arrived in the UK to work on the front line should pay hundreds of pounds, and sometimes thousands, to use the NHS.

He warned a care worker earning the minimum wage would have to work for 70 hours to pay off the fee, which is due to increase from £400 a year to £624 from October.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson told MPs: “I’ve thought a great deal about this and 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.”

He added: “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.”

Sir Keir said he was “disappointed” as the PM knows “how raw” the issue is.

He confirmed Labour would table an amendment to the Immigration Bill to exempt NHS and care workers from the charge now that Mr Johnson had dismissed the call to reconsider his view.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also called for the immigration health surcharge to be removed immediately, describing it as “cruel”.

He said: “The Home Secretary (Priti Patel) and the Prime Minister seem hell-bent on implementing a purely ideological immigration policy with no basis in fairness or economics. This Government has talked about giving back to our NHS and care staff, well it’s time for the Prime Minister to deliver.

“People migrating to these nations and choosing to work in our NHS and our care sector must have this Government’s cruel NHS surcharge removed, and removed immediately.

“Will the Prime Minister make that pledge today or will he clap on Thursday hoping that no-one really notices that he’s giving with one hand and raking it in with the other?”

Mr Johnson responded: “This is the party that is putting more into the NHS – £34 billion – the biggest investment in modern times and believe me we will continue with that investment.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The immigration health surcharge is a grossly unfair financial burden on our international workforce and we’re pleased to see the issue being taken seriously by politicians.

“The Government must drop this charge as a matter of urgency.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Jonathan Brady / PA Wire.

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