Hundreds of overseas doctors are considering quitting the NHS in protest at being charged thousands of pounds a year for visas and healthcare in order to work in the UK.
Medics from around the world are considering taking their skills abroad, angered by high charges and fees. Immigration rules mean they must pay thousands of pounds a year for a working visa, and £400 a year for them and each member of their family to use the NHS.
More than 500 doctors from outside the EU have voiced their concerns in testimonies given to EveryDoctor, a campaigning organisation run by medics to improve how the profession is treated.
One NHS doctor from India is among those considering going abroad. “Despite the NHS needing additional doctors these policies send the message that doctors on visas are second-class employees, unwanted and completely disposable,” they said.
“I want to keep working in the NHS as I love it and what it stands for. But I’m exploring other options. The immigration system can’t expect us to keep fighting to live here when it undermines us every step of the way.”
Medics from outside the EU27 want visa charges , which can amount to thousands a year for them and their families, to be cut or scrapped altogether, along with the immigration health surcharge (IHS), which was recently doubled to £400 for every member of an overseas doctor’s family.
Failure to reduce the financial burden will exacerbate the NHS’s already serious shortage of medics, which is affecting hospitals and GP services across Britain, they warned.
Dr Julia Patterson from EveryDoctor said: “The NHS actively recruits doctors from other countries, and yet when these highly trained individuals arrive in the UK they are treated incredibly poorly.
“These high visa fees coupled with the NHS surcharge combine to create a financially crippling situation for thousands of doctors. Many doctors we have spoken to are considering leaving the UK as a result. We can ill afford to lose their valuable skills and experience.”
Dr Siti Ibrahim, a trainee GP in Yorkshire who is originally from Malaysia, will have to fork out £11,400 this August – if she decides to stay. That is made up of £4,200 for a new visa for three years and three years’ advance payment of the IHS for herself and her husband and four children.
Of the 300,030 doctors in the UK on the General Medical Council register, 81,427 – almost one in three – obtained their medical degree in a country that is outside the European Economic Area. That is almost three times the 32,468 in the NHS who come from within the EEA.
A small number of NHS trusts pay the visa and IHS costs to encourage overseas staff to stay. A new NHS strategy to tackle chronic understaffing in England, due this week, is expected to reiterate the ambition set out in the recent NHS long term plan to increase the number of health staff recruited from abroad.
A hospital doctor from Nigeria, who has two children, is particularly angry about having to pay the IHS. “It’s not fair on us, when we work for the system and are law-abiding. I think they don’t care about this at all, like migrants have simply become another money-making avenue regardless of their contributions,” they said.
Key NHS organisations have backed EveryDoctor’s call for the Home Office to urgently review the charges. “We are operating in a highly competitive international market. So anything – including extra taxes and surcharges – that makes it harder to persuade overseas staff to come and work for the NHS, and to stay here in the UK, is unhelpful,” said Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England.
Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, said the NHS could not rely on recruiting more British staff to plug gaps, which stand at 102,000 in England.
“We need a migration system that is fit for purpose but we clearly risk disincentivising vital health and social care staff through an approach which is designed to be both complicated and expensive.
“We need a more thoughtful government approach to international recruitment and along with our colleagues in social care we sincerely hope the government can dramatically improve upon the proposals set out in its recent white paper,” he added.
The Home Office praised migrant workers’ role in the NHS but denied that they deserved to be made exempt from the surcharge. “It is only right that they contribute to the running of the NHS, as do other providers of essential public services such as teachers.
“Income from fees charged for immigration and nationality applications play a vital role in our ability to run a sustainable immigration and nationality system and minimise the burden on the taxpayer. The Home Office reviews fees on a yearly basis.”