UK Politics

Government defends fees for overseas NHS staff despite Tory criticism

Hospital ward Image copyright PA Media

The government has defended charging overseas health workers to use the NHS, despite criticism from its own party.

The health immigration surcharge on non-EU migrants is £400 per year and set to rise to £624 in October.

Some Tory MPs have called for NHS and care workers to be exempt as a way of saying "thank you" for their work during the coronavirus outbreak.

But the PM's spokesman said the money "goes directly back into the NHS to help save lives".

Labour are seeking an amendment to the Immigration Bill to exempt NHS staff from the surcharge, including cleaners and care professionals.

The party's leader, Sir Keir Starmer, tweeted it was "grossly hypocritical to clap our carers one day and then charge them to use the NHS the next".

Asked about the charge at Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions, Boris Johnson said he "understood the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff", but said the government "must look at the realities" of funding the NHS.

However, the Tory chairman of the Commons public administration select committee, William Wragg, said in a tweet it was the time for a "generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good".

He was backed up by fellow Tory MP Sir Roger Gale, who also tweeted his support for the exemption, saying it would be "mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty" to keep it in place.

He later told BBC News a number of his colleagues agreed with the exemption, and that while Mr Johnson was on the wrong side of public opinion, he had "the opportunity to put something that is wrong right."

Sir Roger added: "In the grand scheme of things [it is a quick way] to say thank you to some very brave people who've been saving lives."

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Media captionTory MP: NHS fee exemption is "way to say thank you"

The PM told MPs on Wednesday that the contribution from NHS and care staff allowed the government to raise £900m for its coffers.

Figures from the House of Commons Library, which compiles impartial briefings for MPs, showed £917m was the amount raised over four years by all migrants who have to pay.

But this number is likely to be considerably higher after the £224 rise in the charge comes in later this year.

The PM's spokesman confirmed the planned rise in the surcharge would go ahead in October, describing it as a "very clear manifesto commitment made by the government" on the basis of which "the prime minister won a significant majority".

The library estimated it would cost around £35m a year to exempt those who are NHS staff, although that figure would rise for Labour's plan to exempt care workers as well.

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