The Prime Minister has rejected pleas from the health and social care sectors to exempt care workers from paying the NHS surcharge.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer led the calls during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, asking whether Boris Johnson believes that care workers coming from overseas and working on the frontline should have to pay the £400 a year to use the NHS.
He warned that the fee will go up to £624 a year from October and, for a care worker on the National Living Wage, this would require working 70 hours to pay it off.
The Prime Minister responded: “I have thought a great deal about this, and I do accept and I do understand the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff, and like him i have been the personal beneficiary… carers who have come from abroad and saved my life. And I know exactly the importance…
“On the other hand we must look at the realities. This is a great national service, it is a national institution and it needs funding. Those contributions help us raise around £900m and it is very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources. So, with great respect to the point that he makes, I do think that is the right way forward.”
Keir Starmer said he was “disappointed” by Johnson’s response and asked him to reconsider, stating that The Doctors Association and a number of medical groups believe the refusal to scrap the surcharge for NHS and care workers is a “gross insult” to those serving the country at its time of “greatest need”.
The Prime Minister replied: “I have given my answer, but what I will say is that it is important that we support our NHS and that we invest massively in our NHS.”
Amid the coronavirus crisis, doctors, nurses and paramedics have been granted a one-year exemption from the charge, but the foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that “there’s no current plans” to extend this benefit to care workers.
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said exemptions would be welcome, but that the health surcharge should be scrapped altogether.
“Dealing with the pandemic has shown more than ever how NHS and care services rely on staff from overseas. It beggars belief that we’re making them pay extra to work here and keep us safe,” she said.
“Workers who come to the UK pay for the services they use through tax and national insurance. This fee should be scrapped completely but exempting health and care staff would be a good first step.”