Overseas health and care staff will be exempted from the fee levied on non-EU migrants to pay for the NHS in a u-turn from Boris Johnson following pressure from his backbenches and opposition MPs.
Downing Street said the prime minister has asked officials at the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove health and care workers from the surcharge ‘as soon as possible’.
Full details will be announced in the coming days, a Number 10 spokesman said.
Yesterday the PM said: ‘I do accept and understand the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff and, like him, I’ve been a personal beneficiary of carers who have come from abroad and, frankly, saved my life’.
But he added: ‘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 now his spokesperson said Johnson ‘has been thinking about this a great deal’ and as a ‘personal beneficiary of carers from abroad’ he understands the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff.
‘The purpose of the NHS surcharge is to benefit the NHS, help to care for the sick and save lives.
‘NHS and care workers from abroad who are granted visas are doing this already by the fantastic contribution which they make.’
The £400 surcharge remains in place for other categories of visa applicants and will increase to £624 in October, as planned.
The change will apply to all NHS workers, ranging from medical health staff to vital porters and cleaners.
It also includes independent health workers and social care workers.
The u-turn comes after senior Tories demanded change, with former party chairman Lord Patten calling it ‘appalling’ and ‘monstrous’.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘Boris Johnson is right to have y-turned and backed our proposal to remove the NHS charge for health professionals and care workers.
‘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.’
But Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine said the prime minister should go further.
‘This is a positive step from the Government but the PM must go further. All migrants working in the NHS & social care during this crisis should be given the right to stay in the UK, with no visa fees and no bureaucracy.
‘Thousands of NHS and care workers from around the world have made huge sacrifices and put themselves in danger for us. It should be unthinkable that the Home Office would ever force them to leave the country they have served so well.
‘MPs from across parliament who managed to pressure the Government into the exemption must now focus their attention on .giving these heroes the right to remain.’