This article has been written by Xan Youles who is a correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service which has offices stationed across the UK and Ireland.
‘Brexit Day’ has been and gone, yet on the surface little has changed. Britain is hoping to negotiate a variety of trade deals while it resides in the waiting room of the European Union before the official departure day, 1 January 2021. However, one institution caught up in the Brexit war is the UK’s National Health Service.
The NHS is home to many migrant workers and is arguably the heartbeat of a staggering, wounded nation. It can unite voters across the political spectrum who look to it as an integral part of British identity and culture, yet for some time now, the NHS has been a victim of brutal Home Office abuse and neglect. Mass staff shortages have continued to spiral out of control to the tune of 1 in 10 posts now remaining unfilled, pushing the sector to the brink of collapse.
In a bid to inspire voter confidence, the Conservative Party has been boasting about the implementation of a new NHS visa, but underneath the bluster and bragging, what makes it special?
The truth is, not a lot. The ‘offers’ of the proposed visa are already available: migrant NHS staff already have access to visa discounts as the Tier 2 Work Visa for doctors and nurses is already listed on the Shortage Occupation List. They will pay precisely the same fee that they pay now (£464). In addition, there is currently no cap in place for how many nurses and doctors can come to the UK – which is also advertised as another ‘benefit’ under the NHS Visa.
Although this is neither here nor there, the Immigration Health Surcharge may very well be the final nail in the coffin for the NHS. This charge is paid by all migrants when they enter the UK to cover any costs should they require NHS treatment. But now that the Home Office wants to see this fee rise to £625 per year, NHS nurses and doctors could face a staggering bill of over £3,000. The only difference is that Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, wants to give staff the ‘relief’ of coughing up this fee through deductions in their salary. The NHS Visa appears altogether more expensive than non-EU international workers applying for a Tier 2 now.
In tune with the Home Office’s cunning vote-winning soundbites, the NHS Bill is similarly beginning to appear empty of real change and promise. While £34 billion invested into the NHS sounds impressive, the Government’s ambition to recruit 50,000 extra nurses to mitigate the sector’s staffing crisis actually transpires to around 31,500. Plans to make up the rest include a “retention” strategy – that is to hang on to staff who are halfway out the door. And confidence that the UK could even encourage over 30,000 new staff members are wavering since former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, failed to deliver 5,000 GPs in 2015 and the new costly post-Brexit rules appear to rain on the parade of any recruitment drive.
Homegrown talent could be an option to quickly fuel the workforce but some medical courses are even facing closure from a lack of interest which has arguably been brought about by the tragic loss of bursaries in 2017 and the fact that students have to work full-time hours in placements without any pay. The Conservatives have proposed a maintenance grant but as the Royal College of Nursing has stated, it is not enough.
At the core of the damage is financial instability as the NHS faces a £150 million deficit as of March 2019 and a yawning gap in staff shortages that will only increase without serious reinvestment programmes. The terrifying truth is that the NHS staff shortage is life threatening for patients as some are even missing out on early stage diagnoses for illnesses such as bowel cancer. NHS bosses have confirmed the worries with nine out of ten bosses sure that the staff shortage compromises patient safety.
The country ought to be up in arms about the state of UK healthcare – and what little is on offer to bring it back to life. The Government’s latest immigration plan which includes scrapping a temporary visa route for so-called “low-skilled” workers is sure to have a devastating impact on the social care sector which already stands on the shakiest grounds before the UK officially slams the gates shut forever for EU migrant care workers on the 1 January 2021.
The facts, as laid out by the NHS’ current staff and analysis by experts, tells us the NHS is on its last legs. And sadly, this so-called “NHS Visa” will barely attend to the crisis when it comes to poaching EU staff as they will be able to live, work and travel anywhere else on the continent without a visa and for free.
All the NHS Visa is serving to function as so far is fantastical smoke and mirrors; as lip service from the Home Office to pretend it cares about the NHS. The reality will only materialise as time drags on with more patients left on trolleys in corridors and cancer patients never receiving the life-saving treatment they desperately need.
The consequence of an ill-fitted immigration plan quite literally translates into a tragic loss of life.