DAUK in The Times: fee on foreign medics for using NHS is branded a gross insult

Excerpt of article in The Times by Richard Ford

Charging overseas medical staff higher fees to use the NHS is a “gross insult” to professionals who are risking their lives to fight Covid-19, doctors’ leaders say.

They have urged the government to reconsider plans to make foreign medical workers pay a £624 health surcharge as part of a post-Brexit immigration system, saying scrapping it would be the “smallest recognition” of their role in the pandemic.

Downing Street said yesterday that the government would press ahead with plans in the Conservative manifesto to increase the fee levied on overseas workers to cover the cost of their healthcare, which is due to be extended to those from the EU.

Dominic Raab, the first secretary of state, told the daily coronavirus briefing that there were “no current plans” to exempt care workers but promised a “sensitive immigration system for those exceptional frontline workers”. Labour accused the government of “rank hypocrisy”, saying the system would discriminate against people designated as “key workers” during the pandemic.

Currently all non-EU workers pay £400 a year on top of their visa to “ensure that migrants make a proper financial contribution to the cost of their NHS care”. In March, about 3,000 overseas doctors, nurses and paramedics working for the NHS and due to renew visas before October 1 were temporarily exempted from the charge as part of emergency measures but after that they, like other overseas workers, will be liable to a higher fee of £624.

Groups representing frontline doctors have written to Priti Patel, the home secretary, urging her to think again. They pointed to cases where NHS doctors paying the surcharge have died of coronavirus, including Furqan Ali Siddiqui, from Pakistan, and Habibhai Babu from India.

“At a time when we are mourning colleagues your steadfast refusal to reconsider the deeply unfair immigration health surcharge is a gross insult to all who are serving this country at its time of greatest need,” write Rinesh Parmar, chairman of the Doctors’ Association UK, Ramesh Mehta, president of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, and Amir Burney, president of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of Northern Europe.

Medical staff from ethnic minorities have been disproportionately likely to die of COVID-19 and the letter says it is “a betrayal of all these hardworking people” to increase charges on them for the right to work in the NHS.

Ms Patel said the new points system would be “smoother and simpler” than the current one when it comes into effect at the beginning of next year.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “In light of the exceptional circumstances that coronavirus presents, it is right that policies are kept under review. This includes how the immigration health surcharge applies.”

The full article can be found here