THE TORIES, under fire from all sides have had to make a U-turn on their policy over the immigration status of NHS workers.
Until yesterday only the families of NHS doctors and nurses who get infected by coronavirus and sadly die are eligible for both compensation and, if they are from another country, ‘indefinite leave to remain’.
However, after an emotional appeal by a Syrian cleaner at Whipps Cross Hospital in Walthamstow and intense pressure from the GMB trade unions the Home Office has had to give way and announce yesterday morning that the families of all cleaners, porters and carers will be eligible for the same.
The Syrian cleaner Hassan Akkad not only was instrumental in winning the right for his family to be granted ‘indefinite leave to remain’ were he to die on the frontline, but for the families of all those cleaners and carers as well.
Akkad initially said he felt ‘betrayed’ and ‘stabbed in the back’ at discovering the Home Office scheme, introduced last month, offered security to the relatives of foreign national NHS staff but excluded cleaners, porters and social care workers.
His emotional appeal got more than one million views on Twitter.
Tory Home Secretary Priti Patel later announced an extension to the scheme to include low paid workers.
This morning the Home Office confirmed her announcement stating: ‘The Home Office is extending the offer of indefinite leave to remain, free of charge, to the families and dependants of NHS support staff and social care workers who die as result of contracting coronavirus. The offer of indefinite leave to remain will be effective immediately and retrospectively.’
Lola McEvoy, GMB organiser, said: ‘It’s great that GMB pressure has forced the Home Office to back track on this. But as with everything the devil is in the detail and we urge the Home Secretary to mirror the free auto-extension of work visa scheme as well as the free indefinite leave to remain for grieving families to all those staff eligible for Matt Hancock’s Life Assurance payments; that is – all key workers who are in front-line healthcare roles.
‘Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also an acceptance that regardless who you work for, where you were born or how much you’re paid – if you have fought front-line during this pandemic – you and your family will be supported and treated the same.’
Meanwhile, the outcry over NHS workers from overseas being forced to pay £625 for themselves and £625 for every member of their family to use the NHS – the very institution they work for – has intensified.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said yesterday. ‘The immigration health surcharge is unfair, illogical and penalises hardworking international staff for dedicating their lives to NHS patients.’
The issue has split the Tory Party, with some of Johnson’s own MPs calling for him to capitulate to the pressure and scrap the NHS surcharge for overseas workers. When Johnson was at death’s door, suffering from coronavirus himself, he was being looked after by overseas nurses in the NHS who also have to pay the surcharge.
Leading Tory MP William Wragg put out a statement calling for the surcharge to be scrapped. He was backed by Tory MP Roger Gale who said yesterday: ‘At PM’s Question Time the Prime Minister gave a figure of £900 million with revenues to the health service from immigrants health fees.
‘The impression was that was the figure for health service workers and care service workers. In fact that figure, which I am certain was provided by the Home Office, because it is the Home Office’s responsibility, was the total figure, and clearly the figure for the health service and for care workers is a very great deal less, it is probably in the region of £50m pounds.
‘I am not suggesting that £50m is not a lot of money, but in the great scheme of things, to say thank you to the very brave people who have been saving lives I think is quick win.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul continued: ‘The BMA has consistently said that all healthcare workers should be exempt from paying the charge – and this is more important now than ever. At a time when skilled international doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are risking their lives in the fight against Covid-19 – and most tragically, in some cases dying on the frontline – it beggars belief that they are still being charged to use the very service they are working for. These staff are also already paying tax and national insurance like everybody else – meaning they are being charged twice for NHS treatment.
‘Just weeks’ ago, it was positive to hear the Home Secretary promising a review into the charge – only for the government to now say nothing will change. We continue to urge the government to scrap the charge for healthcare workers and welcome the Labour leader’s proposed amendment to the Immigration Bill. In the last two months we’ve seen a huge outpouring of support for our frontline staff, including those talented colleagues who have come to work here from overseas, and I’m sure they would be dismayed to find that the government is continuing to penalise them with this absurd fee during the crisis.’
Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘Dealing with the pandemic has shown more than ever how NHS and care services rely on staff from overseas. It beggars belief that we’re making them pay extra to work here and keep us safe.
‘Workers who come to the UK pay for the services they use through tax and national insurance. This fee should be scrapped completely but exempting health and care staff would be a good first step.’