Senior Tory MPs have joined opposition calls to scrap a NHS surcharge for international healthcare workers, fuelling claims it could lead to a revolt from the prime minister’s backbenches.
Former Conservative Party vice-chairman Sir Roger Gale warned that not to waive the current surcharge ‘would rightly be perceived as mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty’.
William Wragg, who currently chairs the Commons committee on public administration and constitutional affairs, joined him in claiming now was the time to show ‘generosity of spirit’ to frontline staff.
They joined opposition parties including the Lib Dems, Labour and the SNP in opposing a fee on foreign NHS workers.
‘Now is the time for a generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good. I am sure that @Conservatives colleagues will be supportive,’ Wragg tweeted in support of axing the charge.
Politicians and healthcare workers have called on the government to dump the yearly charge for migrant care workers coming from outside the European Economic Area, which is to rise to £624 in October from £400.
But Johnson rejected the calls during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) stating the system needed the income stream to cope in the current climate.
‘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,’ Johnson told opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer during the debate.
‘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.’
Sir Keir told the prime minister that a care worker on the National Living Wage would have to work for 70 hours ‘to pay off the fee’.
‘Every Thursday we go out and clap for our carers. Many of them are risking their lives for the sake of all of us,’ he said.
Sir Roger disputed the cost, suggesting that, while he has no doubt that Johnson provided the £900 million figure ‘in good faith’, it is ‘a total figure for the sum collected and not the amount actually received annually from health and care service-employed immigrants’.
‘That figure is a fraction of the total sum – probably not more than £50 million,’ he said.
‘I have tabled a written question to secure the correct details from the Home Office but, in the meantime, I strongly believe that the £400 charge should be waived for those immigrants currently working in the health and care services and saving lives.
‘To do otherwise would rightly be perceived as mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty – and the prime minister has none of those failings.’
The respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank has dismissed the £900 million figure, saying that scrapping the charge for NHS and care workers alone would only cost a tenth of that total, approximately £90 million.