After a series of hiccups, the British government has finally announced the removal of the controversial Immigrant Health Surcharge (IHS) for overseas NHS staff and care workers.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced an extension of the bereavement scheme to support lower-salaried staff.
At least 44 per cent of staff in the UK National Health Service (NHS) are from ethnic minority groups and out of every 10 doctors are foreign-born. At least 312 healthcare professionals who have succumbed to Covid-19 in the UK were of Indian origin.
What is Immigration Health Surcharge?
IHS is a charge levied upon any national of a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) applying for a visa to work, study or join their family in the UK for more than 6 months from outside the UK.
This was introduced in 2015 by the David Cameron and Nick Clegg coalition government and entitled the use of NHS, once paid.
While various organisations and politicians have been seeking exemption of healthcare workers from this surcharge, the government has finally changed its stance on the surcharge for health workers serving in the UK. It may be noted that this surcharge has helped the UK earn £900 million since its introduction in 2015.
Johnson’s official spokesperson announced on the May 21 that the prime minister has asked the UK Home Office to exempt NHS and care workers from paying the surcharge.
“The PM has asked the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.
“Work by officials is now underway on how to implement the change and full details will be announced in the coming days,” added the PM’s spokesperson.
NHS stay includes a large number of doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, independent health workers and social care workers.
“We are absolutely delighted that the government, at last, has seen the sense,” Ramesh Mehta, president of BAPIO told India Today TV.
Calling it a big victory, Dr Neha Sharma, founder and secretary of Association of Overseas Doctors in the UK, thanked the united effort of organisations like BAPIO, DIAUK and APPNE in an interview to India Today TV.
She said, “We want this IHS to be completely removed, not only for us but also for our dependents. We should get access to public funds of social benefits but at the moment we haven’t got this privilege. It’s clearly stated on our visa. The aim is everyone should be treated equally and get equal safety and security which is our basic human right.”
Royal College of Physicians, too, had recommended its removal.
Reacting to the move, Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said, “We are delighted to see the government have paid heed to our calls for health and social care staff to be exempt from the immigration health surcharge. 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. But the government’s job isn’t done yet.”
The Bereavement Scheme has also been extended by the UK government since last month and was intended to offer security to the families of foreign national employees.
It will now offer indefinite leave to remain free of charge in the UK for families of healthcare workers, who have died in the line of duty battling Covid-19.
Apart from doctors and nurses now, it also includes porters, cleaners and social care workers. This scheme will be effective “immediately and retrospectively.
Home Secretary Priti Patel called the move a recognition of the “tireless dedication and selflessness” of the healthcare workers and said, “We want to ensure families have the support they need and so this will be effective immediately and retrospectively.”
Calling this a victory for “common sense,” Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, said, “It’s the right thing to do, we can’t clap our carers on a Thursday and charge them to use our NHS on a Friday.”
FROM THE MAGAZINE | Migrant worker crisis: The long road home
ALSO READ | Scientists in China believe new drug can stop pandemic ‘without vaccine’
INTERVIEW | ‘We’re in a safe place’ if mortality rate kept down: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw