PM makes U-turn on NHS surcharge for migrant health workers

Downing Street

Boris Johnson has bowed to pressure and will scrap the NHS surcharge for migrant healthcare workers.

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister asked the Home Office and Department of Health and Social care to remove NHS and care workers from the scheme “as soon as possible”, despite ruling it out only yesterday.

“Work by officials is now underway on how to implement the change and full details will be announced in the coming days,” said the No10 spokesman.

‘Look at the realities’ – PM

The healthcare surcharge – payable by all UK visa applicants from non-European Economic Area countries – is set to increase from £400 to £624 in October 2020.

Keir Starmer raised the issue during PMQs in the Commons on Wednesday, describing the fee as “unjust”, particularly in light of the efforts of such workers in fighting the coronavirus and their contribution to the country.

Johnson told the Labour leader to “look at the realities” and ruled about scrapping the healthcare surcharge because it raises “about £900 million” for the Treasury.

Govt’s position: ‘Appalling and monstrous’ says ex-Tory party chairman

However, the pressure has since intensified on the PM with his own backbenchers joining opposition MPs and peers in calling for the scheme to end.

Lord Patten – the former conservative party chairman – described the government’s position as “appalling” and “monstrous” while former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who introduced the fee in 2015, called for the policy to change.

Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Political Thinking podcast: “Given the sacrifices that we’ve seen during the coronavirus pandemic, low-paid frontline health and care workers need to be thought about differently, and I think one of the ways that we could do this is by looking at that surcharge, so I very much hope the government will do something.”

‘U-turn is a big win for Starmer’

The government previously announced that doctors, nurses and paramedics would be made exempt from the fee but immediately came under pressure to include all migrant healthcare workers.

The Guardian reports that “all NHS workers, including porters and cleaners” as well as independent health and social care workers will now also be exempt.

Announcing the U-turn this afternoon (Thursday), the No10 spokesman added: “As the PM said in the House of Commons [during yesterday’s PMQs], he has been thinking about this a great deal. He has been a personal beneficiary of carers from abroad and understands the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff.”

The Conservative supporting Telegraph – which previously employed Johnson as a reporter and columnist – described the U-turn as a “big win” for Starmer ,“though it shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a set back” for the PM.

Because, writes Michael Deacon, “U-turns aren’t always a sign of weakness. In fact, they can be a sign of strength. Because a good leader listens. And a good Leader of the Opposition forces him to do so.”

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