A nurse from Bedfordshire has renewed calls for a “horrid” surcharge levied on overseas nurses and their dependents to be permanently scrapped as these staff play a vital role in providing care during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Evaline Omondi, a nurse in Luton, said the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) should be stopped immediately, pointing to the invaluable work being carried out by these workers as they risk their own health, and that of their families, caring for patients with COVID-19.
The Royal College of Nursing has echoed Evaline’s calls for this “unfair” charge to be dropped. The £400 a year surcharge is currently payable by all migrants from non-EU countries, whether they access NHS services or not, both for themselves and for each dependant they have. They must pay this charge despite the fact nursing staff from overseas employed in the UK already pay for the NHS through income tax and National Insurance payments.
In the Budget last month it was announced that the IHS would rise to £624 from October, expanding to include EEA migrants from January 2021.
The Government recently announced that frontline NHS staff with visas due to expire before October would have these automatically extended for a year and these would also be exempt from the IHS. But Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the RCN, has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel calling for the exemption to be extended to all health and care workers, including those working in non-NHS settings. She also asked her to permanently exempt all health and care staff from the IHS.
Evaline, who moved to the UK from Kenya, welcomed the temporary extension of visas, but echoed the call for this to cover all frontline staff and for the IHS to be permanently removed for these key workers. She said: “Even before the current crisis, staff working in health services have had to deal with the consequences of staff shortages, poor pay, work overload and winter pressures. Now the stress levels have hit a peak and the Government needs to listen to staff who are part of the key to guiding the nation out of the current, desperate situation.
“Health workers from overseas already face the financial stress from visa renewal fees as well as the horrid immigration health surcharge. This means we pay double to access health services in the UK, as we also pay National Insurance like everyone else. It is unkind and unthoughtful for this extra charge to be placed on this group."
Evaline added: “Now is the time to say this has to stop. Health services need us more than ever. They should not be putting an extra obstacle in the way of staff who are caring for patients at this most difficult of times.
“The IHS on health workers must end now.”
Teresa Budrey, RCN Eastern Regional Director, said: “Overseas nurses have always played a significant and valued part in the delivery of patient care in the UK, and now more than ever we are asking them to give their all in support of their patients and colleagues.
“We continue to call for the Immigration Health Surcharge to be permanently scrapped for health care workers. This fee is totally unfair and should not be allowed to continue.”