Campaigners have slammed the government’s decision to push ahead with plans to double the fee overseas’ nurses have to pay to use the NHS as “beyond cruel”.
The move will mean nurses from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will be charged £400 instead of £200 a year to access health care, on top of visa bills and taxes.
They will have to pay the same fee for any dependent children.
Leaders at the Royal College of Nursing have been campaigning for the fee to be waived for international nurses all together.
But as reported by Nursing Times last week, immigration minister Caroline Nokes has rejected the college’s call, saying it is “only right” that nurses pay.
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Yesterday, politicians in the House of Commons approved the motion to double the surcharge by 300 votes to 232.
The amendment to the legislation now needs backing in the House of Lords to pass the final hurdle.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the crunch vote was set to take place next Wednesday.
Professor Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said the college would be lobbying the House of Lords to turn down the proposals.
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She said: “These fees can tear families apart, separating mother from child. Our health services depend on professionals from around the world, but the government has now signalled they are no longer welcome.
“We will be lobbying the House of Lords to send a message to the government that this morally bankrupt decision is completely unacceptable, especially in light of the recent Windrush scandal.
“The very people who deliver healthcare should be the last people to have to pay spiralling extra charges for it. We will continue the fight to have these charges waived for nursing staff.”
Jude Diggins, director of RCN London region, said: “Charging overseas nursing staff - who pay tax and national insurance - to access the very health service they work in is hostile enough, but voting to double the charge is beyond cruel, mean-spirited and speaks to a government which looks increasingly inwards.”
She claimed the vote was “rushed through parliament” with little notice.
“The doubled fee, which is now £400, may not be a grand sum for a government minister, but for overseas nursing staff with families, it is a cost they could do without, especially when trying to settle in a new country,” Ms Diggins added.
Ms Diggins said 17% of nursing staff in London were from outside the EEA and without them “the health service would grind to a halt”.
The immigration health surcharge was introduced in April 2015 and is paid by non-EEA nationals who are staying in the UK for longer than six months but do not have permanent residency.
Students are only required half the normal rate but under the change in legislation this will now rise to £200.
The policy has raised more than £600m for the NHS and the rise is expected to bring in an additional £220m a year.
Ms Nokes said: “Our NHS is always there when you need it, paid for by British taxpayers.
“We welcome long-term migrants using the NHS, but we believe it is right that they make a fair and proportionate contribution to its long-term sustainability.”
She added that the extra money would go “directly towards sustaining and protecting” the health system and added that even with the increase the fee was still a “good deal”.
The government says the cost to the NHS of treating those who pay the surcharge is £470 a year.