Scrap NHS surcharge for overseas nurses, RCN tells government

Plight of Kenyan nurse’s young family highlights ‘shameful’ policy

A Kenyan nurse working in the UK had to send two of her young children home to Africa because the government sent her a bill to cover NHS costs they might incur.

Eva Omondi.

Evaline Omondi, who works in Luton, Bedfordshire, was asked to pay more than £3,500 in case her family needed to use the NHS during her time in the UK.

The government introduced a policy in 2015 requiring non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals to pay a £200 overseas health surcharge per family member for every year on their work permit. The Omondi household, consisting of two adults and four children, was sent a £3,600 bill to cover them for Ms Omondi's three-year work permit.

Damaging to family life

Ms Omondi said the charge proved too much for the family.

'The fees had to be paid immediately, so we had to take out loans to cover them which still affect my family to this day,' she said.

'But on top of the visa charges, and childcare costs, we could not meet the cost and my children had to move back to Kenya.'

Now separated from her six and eight-year-old children, Ms Omondi said making phone calls to her children is difficult.

'I try to speak to them on the phone before they sleep but it is hard with the time difference and my work, so I sometimes don’t get to talk to them,' she said. 

'Nurses should not face this surcharge'

The government plans to double the £200 overseas health surcharge later this year.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies will highlight the plight of non-EEA nurses at RCN congress 2018 tomorrow and is to ask the government to drop the NHS surcharge for nurses.

Ms Davies said the UK had often turned to the wider world to help plug staffing gaps in the NHS, but was now turning its back on them.

'We are proud as a profession to have the best and brightest from over 200 countries,' she said. 'But the government now seems hell-bent on showing, through its handling of Brexit and the treatment of people from the wider world, that they’re no longer welcome.'

‘These people keep the NHS running – they are the very last people who should ever be sent up-front invoices for healthcare’

Janet Davies, RCN general secretary

In the wake of the Windrush scandal, Ms Davies said charging nurses and their families to access the very health system they were supporting, exemplified how the government treated those who came to the UK to help others.

'It was shocking and embarrassing to see Britain being heartless, divisive and plain old nasty,' she said. 'It is shameful that families are being torn apart by this policy too.'

Brexit warning

Ms Davies cautioned the government on applying the overseas health surcharge to EEA nurses post Brexit, a move it has yet to rule out.

'The government must not put Spanish, Portuguese or Italian colleagues through the same after Brexit.'

'I say to the government today: these people keep the NHS running – they are the very last people who should ever be sent up-front invoices for healthcare – get your priorities in order'.

The RCN estimates there are 25,000 non-European Union nurses and 21,000 EU nurses working in the NHS in England.

The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment. 

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