PM “poorly briefed or deliberately misleading” on health charge, says Labour MP

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

The Prime Minister was either “poorly briefed or deliberately misleading” on the cost of scrapping the immigration health surcharge for NHS and care workers, a Labour MP has said.

Keir Starmer announced during Prime Minister’s Question that Labour would table an amendment to the immigration bill to exempt NHS and care workers from the immigration charge.

Boris Johnson appeared to claim in response to the proposal that such a move would cost the UK £900m and “it’s very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources [of NHS funding]”.

Labour MP Seema Malhotra has obtained information on the cost of the exemption from the House of Commons library following the exchange in parliament on Wednesday.

The opposition frontbencher says the analysis shows the true cost is “somewhere between £1.2m and £35m”, depending on who exactly would be exempted among health and care workers.

The response to the MP from the library said that the £900m number quoted by Johnson “is in line with a recent figure attributed to the Home Office by The Guardian for the total revenue from the IHS over the last four years”.

The research added: “Making permanent the temporary exemption which has been granted to 3,000 healthcare professionals would currently cost around £1.2m per year on the basis of the current £400 IHS rate and £2m at the £624.”

Commenting on the figures, Malhotra said: “Either the Prime Minister was poorly briefed or deliberately misleading at Prime Minister’s Questions. This isn’t about cost, it’s a political choice and hypocritical of a government that weekly claps for carers.

“In a fair immigration system, why would we want those who are coming to work in our NHS to support us and save our lives, to be paying for NHS care themselves? With these new figures, it’s time for the government to change its mind.”

According to the information issued by the Commons library, there are 88,000 non-EU workers in the NHS, but many of these will have permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain and won’t need to apply for a visa.

The upper absolute cost of £35m to abolish the fee for health and care workers – calculated by multiplying the £400 charge by 88,000 – is therefore only “theoretical”, the library response explains.

During PMQs, the Labour leader Starmer had asked Johnson: “Does the PM think it is right that care workers coming from abroad and working on our frontline should have to pay a surcharge of hundreds, sometimes thousands of pounds to use the NHS themselves?”

In response, Johnson said: “We must look at the realities. This is a great national service – it is a national institution – that needs funding, and those contributions help us to raise about £900m.

“It is very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources, so with great respect for the Right Honourable and learned gentleman’s point, I think it is the right way forward.”

The IHS fee is set to increase from £400 a year to £624 in October. The Tories have granted health professionals whose visas expire before then a one-year automatic extension, which will exempt some from paying the fee, but this is a small proportion of workers.

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