Greater clarity needed from PM on plans to scrap immigration health surcharge

Government must remove charge for all healthcare settings

Four health and care organisations – including UNISON – have today (Wednesday) written to the Prime Minister seeking confirmation that all international health and care staff, and their spouses and dependants, will no longer need to pay the immigration health surcharge (IHS).

The charge, which is due to rise from £400 to £624 a year in October, is currently payable by all migrant workers from non-EU countries, whether they access NHS services or not, both for themselves and for every dependant they have.

Last month, the UK government committed to scrapping the charge for heath and care workers in the NHS, but the announcement did not include those working in other healthcare settings.

The letter, also signed by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Physicians, asks the UK government to:

  • confirm that all health and care workers will be exempt from the charge on a permanent basis. This includes those employed in the NHS, independent settings and the social care sector.
  • confirm that the spouses and dependants of health and care workers will also be exempt from the charge.

The letter also seeks assurances that those healthcare staff who have already paid the charge in advance will receive a refund.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “It was always wrong to charge overseas NHS and care staff to use the very services they help provide.

“Now this wrong is to be righted, ministers must refund all charges paid and ensure family members are included too.

“Going that one step further and scrapping the charge for all overseas workers – so that everyone paying taxes and contributing to the economy is no longer punished financially – must now happen too.”

Chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing Dame Donna Kinnair said: “We have consistently campaigned for this charge to be scrapped. It has always been unfair for health and care staff effectively to pay twice to use the very service they work in.

“We welcomed the commitment to remove the charge but now we need assurances that this will apply to all health and care workers and their families.

“The contribution of our overseas nurses, across all settings, has been incredible particularly during the pandemic and it is essential this can continue.

“Action must be taken now to ensure all those who come here to dedicate themselves to our patients are not penalised for doing so.”

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “Our international colleagues were hugely relieved when the Government made the long overdue decision to scrap this unfair charge for healthcare workers, recognising the vital contribution that overseas staff make to the NHS.

“However, three weeks’ later many will be increasingly anxious having heard nothing more.

“Doctors renewing visas are continuing to be charged and we need action now.

“The BMA persistently lobbied to have this punitive and absurd fee scrapped for our members and their colleagues and we will not stop until we have a system that is fair, right and leaves no international doctor worse off for contributing their valuable skills and expertise to the NHS and its patients.”

President of the Royal College of Physicians Professor Andrew Goddard said: “It has never made sense to make the very people whose jobs it is to care for our nation, pay inordinate charges to access care.

“While the government has recognised this, they haven’t gone far enough in reassuring all health and care workers that they and their families will be exempt from the charge.

“The contribution of international NHS and social care workers during the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be underestimated, and they should be fully recognised, commended and compensated for their efforts.”