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Overseas NHS workers risked their lives fighting Covid, they should not have to pay for healthcare

4 min read

The punitive and costly Immigration Health Surcharge for overseas healthcare workers is still charging people hundreds of pounds to use the very NHS they work in.

When Labour created the NHS it was about giving back to a country that had given so much during war. For the first time, it didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, old or young, our National Health Service was there to treat you. This ethos has always been proudly reflected in the diversity of the NHS workforce.

The contribution that overseas workers make to the NHS can’t be measured in just pounds and pence

People have come from all corners of the world to train and work in a health service that is the envy of the world. People like my mum, who came to the UK from Malaysia at just 19 years old with two of her sisters to train as nurses. I wouldn’t exist if she hadn’t have come here, so I may be biased about the benefits that overseas NHS workers bring, but if you look at this in terms of cold, hard finances and time served, she ended up working for over 40 years as an NHS nurse.

The contribution that overseas workers make to the NHS can’t be measured in just pounds and pence. If you look at the figures, it is clear Dido Harding’s aim of “ending the reliance on foreign workers” doesn’t just go against the nature of the NHS, but will only add to the list of her failures. This country alone will not suddenly magic up 40,000 nurses or 112,000 carers to cover the current shortages, let alone deal with the backlog caused by Covid or meeting the future challenges of an aging population.

Dido Harding’s latest offensive comments aren’t surprising. The Conservative government has been on this path for some time – creating a hostile, unwelcoming environment for people coming from abroad to work in the NHS.

This year in one of my numerous attempts to get a straight answer out of the Care Minister Helen Whately about workforce burnout produced some word soup about a ‘homegrown’ workforce. The ongoing charge of the punitive and costly Immigration Health Surcharge for overseas healthcare workers, introduced by the Tories, is still charging people hundreds of pounds to use the very NHS they work in. It is hard to justify but especially illogical during a pandemic when the very people who have risked their lives are expected to pay for healthcare.

There was so much coverage last year when Boris Johnson was forced to announce an end to this charge for NHS workers, but I have now asked Ministers in Select Committees, in the Chamber and written parliamentary questions and never received a proper answer on how many healthcare workers have received a refund of their health surcharge during the last year. The government promised refunds, but they still have not given an answer as to whether this was delivered or if it was another promise broken. 

When we look at the disproportionate impact of this pandemic on overseas healthcare workers in the NHS, their painful sacrifice is clear. Filipino UK Nurses Association have reported that Filipino healthcare workers have made up 22% of all UK healthcare worker deaths. The first 10 doctors to die were all from overseas and predominately Muslim men from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Every death from Covid is a tragedy but it is clear there has been a disproportionate impact on overseas healthcare workers.

Dido Harding’s latest comments expose the true aim behind the increasingly hostile and racist Conservative policies inflicted on workers who choose to come work in the NHS. The government’s claps and badges for carers will not mask their contempt for hard working immigrants, even ones who gave everything to serve this country in our hour of need.


Sarah Owen is the Labour MP for Luton North.

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