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THE government yielded to pressure from campaigners, Labour and Tory rebels today as it scrapped NHS fees for overseas health workers.
Boris Johnson asked for foreign NHS and care workers to be removed from the immigration health surcharge as soon as possible amid a mounting rebellion from his own MPs.
Former Conservative Party vice-chairman Sir Roger Gale had warned that keeping the fees “would rightly be perceived as mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty.”
Tory peer and former party chairman Lord Patten had branded the government’s position “appalling” and “immoral” and public-administration and constitutional-affairs committee chairman William Wragg had demanded an immediate change in policy.
Politicians and healthcare workers had put heavy pressure on the government to scrap the surcharge for migrant care workers coming from outside the European Economic Area.
The current fee is £400 per year per person and is set to rise to £624 in October.
During Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had asked the Prime Minister if it he thought it was right that “care workers coming from abroad and working on our front line should have to pay a surcharge of hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds, to use the NHS themselves.”
Mr Johnson said it was, despite acknowledging that health workers from overseas had saved his life when he contracted the coronavirus.
“I do accept and understand the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff and, like [Sir Keir], I’ve been a personal beneficiary of carers who have come from abroad and, frankly, saved my life,” he said.
“On the other hand we must look at the realities — this is a great national service, it’s a national institution, it needs funding and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900 million, and it’s very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources.”
But, announcing the U-turn today, Downing Street said that Mr Johnson “has been thinking about this a great deal” as a “personal beneficiary of carers from abroad.”
Sir Keir said of the decision: “This is a victory for common decency and the right thing to do. We cannot clap our carers one day and then charge them to use our NHS the next.”
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