The Syrian refugee hospital cleaner who tearfully shamed Boris Johnson into a U-turn over banning foreign workers from the NHS’ bereavement scheme today urged the Prime Minister to scrap the ‘inhumane’ charge forcing them to pay to use the health service.
Hassan Akkad said he felt ‘stabbed in the back’ because of the treatment of migrant workers who are risking their lives battling coronavirus will have to pay £624-a-year from October to access the NHS – an increase from the current £400 charge.
Mr Johnson defended the government’s Immigration Health Surcharge as ‘right’ during PMQs yesterday while also revealing 321 NHS and social care workers, many who were born outside Britain, have perished after contracting Covid-19.
But the PM is today under huge pressure to change his mind and is also facing a rebellion from his own backbenchers who also believe NHS and care workers from outside Europe should be exempt from paying the the government’s Immigration Health Surcharge, which will be extended to EU staff from January when Brexit is confirmed.
Critics say these NHS staff, from 200 countries around the globe, are being ‘charged twice’ because they also pay income tax and national insurance that funds hospitals, GP surgeries and dentists.
Speaking to Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain this morning on his way to work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in east London, Mr Akkad said that the Prime Minister must now change his mind on the healthcare levy.
He said: ‘It’s unfair, it’s unjust and I would argue that it’s inhumane. For most cleaners and porters this is two weeks’ salary they have to pay to access the very same institution they are working for during the worst public health crisis in modern history’.
Syrian refugee and award-winning filmaker Hassan Akkad, who took a cleaning job to help the NHS through the pandemic, has got the Government to change its bereavement scheme and is now demanding they scrap the charge for foreign NHS staff to use the health service
Today Syrian refugee Hassan Akkad (left in scrubs) said he been’stabbed in the back’ after being excluded from the NHS bereavement scheme in a video message sent to the PM hours after he said it was right that foreign NHS staff be charged hundreds of pounds a year for healthcare
The Bafta-winning photographer and filmmaker, who took a job as a cleaner at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in east London ‘to help the country through the pandemic’, has said his partner could be deported if he dies
Approaching 200 NHS health and care workers have died on the frontline during the coronavirus pandemic
What is the Immigration Health Surcharge? How much is it and who pays?
Workers coming to the UK from outside the European Economic Area are required to pay the fee in order to be able to use the health service.
The NHS surcharge costs £300 per year for student visas and £400 per year for all other visa and immigration applications. It is being put up to £624-a-year from October. And from next January, it will be extended to all EU citizens who move here after Brexit is completed.
A migrant’s dependents usually need to pay the same amounts. You still need to pay even if you have private medical insurance.
Who needs to pay?
- Any national of a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) not in an exempted category;
- Or anyone applying for a visa to work, study or join your family in the UK for more than 6 months;
For immigration applications made from within the UK, you need to pay if:
- You’re a national of a country outside the EEA or if you’re making an immigration application for any length of time, including applications for 6 months or less.
Who does not need to pay?
- You’re applying for indefinite leave to enter or remain
- You’re a diplomat or a member of a visiting armed forces;
- You’re a dependant of a member of the UK’s armed forces or the dependant of a member of another country’s armed forces;
- You’re a family member of a European national
- You’re applying for a visa for the Isle of Man or Channel Islands
- You’re a British Overseas Territory citizen resident in the Falkland Islands
- You’re an asylum seeker
- A victim of slavery or human trafficking or domestic violence – or their relative;
He added: ‘Piers when I’m in the hospital I’m observing what’s going on around me and you can see people are genuinely discouraged by these policies the government keeps coming up with. The pandemic hasn’t finished yet, all these policies are coming through and the pandemic isn’t done, these people are still risking their lives’.
Yesterday Mr Akkad, a Bafta-winning photographer and filmmaker who took a hospital cleaning job ‘to help the country through the pandemic’, fought back tears as he recorded a message for the Prime Minister after completing his shift.
He said it was a ‘betrayal’ that the lowest paid staff in the NHS had been barred from the UK bereavement scheme meaning their families could be deported if they die from coronavirus. Hours after his extraordinary message the Home Office confirmed that they had changed the policy to include all staff.
Asked about the U-turn Mr Akkad told GMB: ‘I feel very proud and honoured to have played a small role in doing this, there was a lot of pressure from the unions and alot of people spoke out including Piers, which I congratulate him for doing.
‘I went out and did that video not knowing it would be shared thousands of times and viewed by millions of people. I’m so incredibly grateful to know the public is on our side’.
The Government’s NHS bereavement scheme was launched last month and is open to almost all health and social care workers who have died after caring for those contracted Covid-19.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government will pay £60,000 to families of those who die in service. And those from outside Europe would also receive indefinite leave to remain.
Those included in the scheme were any full-time and part-time employees, agency and locum workers, as well as retired staff who returned or students who had taken up paid frontline roles to support the coronavirus response.
But the Home Office has since confirmed that social care workers, hospital cleaners and porters, either employed directly by hospitals or agencies, are not included. Many of these lowest paid workers are from outside the EU.
The death toll among NHS staff has hit 181 and among care workers it is 131, Mr Johnson revealed in PMQs in the House of Commons this afternoon. ‘I know the thoughts of the whole House are with their families and friends,’ he said.
But the Prime Minister came under fire from Labour MPs and nursing unions after he refused to back calls for care workers to be exempted from the Immigration Health Surcharge – saying the charge was ‘right’.
New Zealand nurse Jenny McGee, 35, (pictured) and Portuguese nurse Luis Pitarma cared for the PM in hospital
Ministers have been accused of ‘penalising’ the very healthcare workers who for the past three months have been treating many of Britain’s coronavirus patients on the NHS frontline.
In a bruising PMQs encounter with Labour leader Keir Starmer, Mr Johnson was urged to rethink the charge.
But the Prime Minister defended the policy, saying: ‘We must look at the realities – this is a great national service, it’s a national institution, it needs funding and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900 million, and it’s very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources.
‘So with great respect to the point (Sir Keir Starmer) makes, I do think that is the right way forward.’
Mr Starmer said he was ‘disappointed’ by the response and promised to table an amendment to the Immigration Bill to exempt NHS and care workers from the charge.
A nursing union has said it is ‘alarmed’ to learn there are no plans to exempt foreign health workers from the NHS surcharge.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has written to the Home Secretary Priti Patel urging her to reconsider the decision and waive the charge ‘as a matter of urgency’ as it ramped up calls it has been making on the subject for two years.
Under immigration rules, workers coming to the UK from outside the European Economic Area are required to pay the fee in order to be able to use the health service.
The NHS surcharge costs £300 per year for student visas and £400 per year for all other visa and immigration applications, according to the Government’s website.
A migrant’s dependants usually need to pay the same amounts.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the union which represents 450,000 health and care workers across the UK, said: ‘We are urging the Home Secretary to reconsider and waive this charge for healthcare staff from overseas as a matter of urgency.
‘We have already received devastating accounts from members who are struggling to pay the charge, and the impact that it is having on their families’ lives.
‘The current pandemic has served to reaffirm the importance of our internationally educated staff.
‘Without them here, patient care would be at risk.
‘This charge undermines the dedicated care overseas health and care staff provide to us all.’
Mr Johnson’s video message from inside no 10 after he was discharged from hospital. He singled out his foreign nurses for praise during his message. But the Government has “no current plans” to review the policy known as the immigration health surcharge (IHS)
Carlos Sia (pictured left), who worked for the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, died on Friday, May 15, in the hospital where he worked. Tributes have also been paid to Neil Ruch (right), the first paramedic from the East of England Ambulance Service to lose his life to Covid-19
Sadeq Elhowsh, 58, an orthopaedic surgeon who worked at St Helens and Knowley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, died from coronavirus. Pictured with his sons
Josephine Peter, a nurse at Southport and Formby District General Hospital, leaves behind her husband Thabo, her two children Bongani and Buhle and a granddaughter
Juliet Alder, who worked at the Hammersmith and Fulham Mental Health Unit, died from coronavirus aged 58 on Tuesday, April 14
The latest NHS and care worker death figures come as tributes flooded in for the two most recent healthcare workers known to have died after contracting Covid-19.
Khulisani Nkala, 46, worked as a mental health nurse for the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and died from the virus on Friday
Carlos Sia, who worked for the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, died on Friday, May 15, in the hospital where he worked.
The ‘much-loved’ 62-year-old, who had worked for the trust for five years, had spent several weeks in intensive care.
He has a wife and daughter in the UK, and three sons living in the Philippines.
In a letter to staff, chief executive Matthew Hopkins said: ‘His quiet, gentle and respectful nature, his generosity of spirit, his sense of humour and his calming influence also made him popular with patients.
‘We have lost a valued member of our Trust family – and in Carlos’s case, the word ‘family’ has a special relevance as his wife Cindy works on Avon 2 as a healthcare assistant and his daughter Clair is a nurse on our acute stroke unit.
‘Cindy and Clair are particularly in our thoughts at this sad time, as are all Carlos’s colleagues who worked alongside him and those who cared for him through his illness.’
Manjeet Riyat died at the Royal Derby Hospital on Monday (University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Trust/PA)