Home | News | UK PM angers nurses in lead up to election with ‘tax on nursing’
Boris Johnson addresses the people of Stafford in Market Square during the Vote Leave, Brexit Battle Bus tour in 2016. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

UK PM angers nurses in lead up to election with ‘tax on nursing’

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has angered nurses in the lead-up to the election slated for December this year by failing to address the immigration health surcharge (IHS) levied on nurses from outside the EU – who make up one-tenth of the UK health care workforce – for access to the NHS.

Healthcare has become a key issue leading up to the election, with fears over the effects Brexit may have looming large. The nursing workforce in the UK, which relies on approximately 73,308 nurses from outside Europe, has already felt the pressures of Brexit. A recent study found that although the overall number of nurses employed full-time in the NHS increased by almost 0.5 per cent (1,300) between 2017 and 2018, there are still 41,000 vacant registered nursing jobs. Furthermore, the net figure of NHS staff coming from the 27 EU states fell from just under 3,000 to 900 in 2017/18, the report stated.

Johnson has recently announced changes to the visa process – taking inspiration form Australia’s points style system – with hopes of attracting health professionals from outside the EU, cutting the cost of the visa itself and instigating a fast-track application process.

However, union Royal College of Nurses (RCN) in the UK has called out Johnson for failure to repeal the IHS, which they see as part of a system that "is failing patients, and nursing staff from overseas”.

In a release, RCN said: “Under the immigration health surcharge, a nurse from outside the EU must pay £400 per family member, per year of their visa to use the NHS. For a nurse with three children, this would cost £1,600 per year. The college want this scrapped on day one of the next government taking office.

“The college is also urging the next government to adequately risk assess the effects that new post-Brexit immigration rules might have on the nursing workforce from the EU and patient care, especially the impact on the social care workforce.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of RCN, said: “It is a particular disgrace that nursing staff from outside Europe, who already pay tax and national insurance, must fork out again to use the very NHS that they help to keep running – this is none other than a tax on nursing.”

When asked about the RCN claims, Johnson said: “I will look into the matter that the Royal College of Nursing raises,” as reported by Sky News.

Johnson has a chequered past when it comes to the NHS and he was famously condemned for claims during the Brexit campaign that leaving the EU would potentially inject £350 million a week into the NHS.

"We send the EU £350 million a week – let's fund our NHS instead," he said in front of large red bus used by the Vote Leave campaign.

The BBC quoted head of the UK's statistics watchdog, Sir David Norgrove, who said Johnson’s claims were "a clear misuse of official statistics" and EU president Jean-Claude Juncker has called those claims a “lie”.

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