Nursing leaders have today vowed to fight against government plans to double the fee migrant nurses and their families must pay to use the NHS.
Representatives from the Royal College of Nursing branded the proposed hike “short-sighted” and warned it would exacerbate the nurse recruitment crisis.
“Overseas staff keep the NHS running; the government should be thanking them, not doubling the price of admission”
The government wants to raise the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for those from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) from £200 to £400 a year.
The charge allows anyone in the UK for longer than six months on a work, study or family visa to access NHS services.
Non-EEA migrant nurses must pay the fee for themselves and for any dependent family members.
The increase is set to come into effect in December 2018 subject to approval from parliament.
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the money raised through the IHS would be invested back into the UK health system.
However, the RCN is campaigning to have the policy waived for non-EEA nurses.
“It is only fair that people who come to the UK make a contribution to the running of the NHS”
Figures obtained by the college show almost 25,000 nurses from outside the EU are working in the NHS in England.
Meanwhile, the number of vacant nursing posts has risen to 41,722, according to latest NHS Improvement data.
Maria Trewern, outgoing chair of council at the RCN, said: “The RCN has been lobbying the government to waive the overseas surcharge for non-EEA nursing staff, which not only imposes an enormous personal cost on hardworking nurses and healthcare assistants, but risks driving away overseas staff at a time we need them most.”
Ms Trewern said the RCN had written to home secretary Sajid Javid with evidence about the negative impact the IHS had on overseas nurses, their families and wider patient care.
She added: “We have a clear mandate from our members to continue this fight, and get these punitive charges lifted for those dedicating their time to our NHS.”
Tom Sandford, director of the RCN in England, criticised the bid to double the IHS as “punitive” and “short-sighted”.
“These charges can tear families apart, in some cases forcing hardworking nurses to send their children back to their country of origin, while they remain to work in the service of our NHS,” he added.
“This is at a time when our healthcare system is facing almost unprecedented staff shortages, with 41,000 nurse vacancies in England alone. The UK depends on professionals from around the world, and we are proud to have the best and brightest from over 200 countries represented here.”
He added: “Make no mistake: overseas staff keep the NHS running; the government should be thanking them, not doubling the price of admission.”
Jude Diggins, RCN London regional director, said the NHS would “cease to function” without the non-EEA nursing workforce.
Meanwhile, immigration minister Ms Nokes said: “It is only fair that people who come to the UK make a contribution to the running of the NHS, and even with the increase we still continue to offer a good deal on healthcare for those seeking to live in the UK temporarily.”
The government estimates that the cost to the NHS of treating those who pay the surcharge is £470 per year.
The charges do not apply to permanent residents.