Press Release – 25 June 2020

Sarah Owen MP calls on Boris Johnson to keep promise to end NHS fees for health service heroes

Luton North MP Sarah Owen has expressed deep concern that Boris Johnson’s plan to end NHS charges for staff from overseas who have fought on the frontline in the effort to beat coronavirus has stalled, with the Prime Minister and government ministers dodging growing calls for further information on their earlier announcement.

Over a month ago, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, pressure from Labour leader Keir Starmer and Labour MPs forced the Prime Minister into announcing an end to the unfair practice of charging foreign NHS workers who have helped keep the service going at this time to use the health service. A month later, in a series of responses to the Luton North MP, and to the Labour leader at Prime Minister’s Questions, the Prime Minister has continued to delay the release of further details on the policy.

The £400 annual Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) impacts doctors, nurses and other health and social care workers, an already arbitrary which is sum due to soar to £624 from this October.

The majority of NHS staff in England are British – but a substantial minority are not. Around 170,000 out of 1.28 million staff report a non-British nationality. This is 13.8% of all staff for whom a nationality is known, or just almost 1 in 7. Between them, these staff hold 200 different non-British nationalities. Over 67,000 are nationals of other EU countries – 5.5% of NHS staff in England. Around 64,000 staff are Asian nationals.

Earlier this month, The Doctors’ Association UK – which lobbies decision-makers on behalf of NHS doctors – said that the continued delay in ending these NHS charges was “a betrayal”, adding that the situation is “frankly unacceptable”. The Royal College of Nurses has also called on the government to release details of its plan to end these charges, demanding “a bolder and more ambitious approach from Government to reforming immigration policies which impact on our health and care staff, just at the time when we need them the most.”

With unprecedented displays of gratitude for NHS staff over the last few months of the pandemic, politicians, professional bodies and members of the public have been calling on the government to deliver on the nation’s ‘Clap for our NHS heroes’ and reward NHS staff, including by ending arbitrary fees like the IHS which hits workers from overseas.

Labour MP for Luton North Sarah Owen commented:

“It’s not enough for politicians to just clap on our doorsteps for NHS workers. We need to turn our gratitude into real action for NHS workers because we can’t go back to the pre-covid days of pay freezes, overseas fees and staff shortages.”

“Over a month on from the government’s announcement that they would end NHS charges for healthcare workers from overseas, we’re still waiting on the details, with no time table in sight yet. For the government to carry on dragging its feet would be a complete betrayal of the very people who have given to much to fight coronavirus and look after our loved ones over the last few months.”

“I’m going to keep up the pressure on this, and I won’t stop until our NHS staff are given the pay and conditions they deserve, and NHS workers from abroad are made to feel welcome in our country.”