A ROSSENDALE health marshal volunteer has called for assurances that NHS workers from outside the UK are not charged extra to use health services.

Clare Harris, who works on a voluntary basis at Rawtenstall health club where coronavirus vaccines are administered, says that the current crisis has demonstrated just how vital the efforts of those who have come from overseas to work in the NHS has been.

However, despite the work they have done to help others, many of these workers do not have access to the very services they provide and have in many cases found themselves charged to use them due to the Immigration Health Surcharge, in spite of the governments stated commitment to remove this fee.

Mrs Harris said: "My 93 year old mother-in-law is currently in a residential home, receiving excellent care and attention from numerous members of staff, several of whom are of non-UK origin.

"My niece is in an extremely busy hospital, waiting for her third child to be induced, knowing that the lady adjacent to her had to wait five days, also surrounded by committed nurses of non-UK origin.

"These front line, key workers, often on unsocial shift patterns and low incomes, are cheerful, upbeat, and totally committed to caring for our elderly and vulnerable family members.

"So, how do we reward their efforts?

"By charging them to use the very services that they are themselves so valiantly providing to others!"

Under the current system, the majority migrants applying for a UK visa are required to pay a surcharge of £624 per year in order to use NHS services on top of regular taxation.

The government last year announced plans to exempt NHS and care workers from the charge, a move which Darwen and Rossendale MP Jake Berry says has his support.

He said: "It is good news that thousands of health professionals and their family dependants will have their visas extended for a year, free of all fees and charges.

"I believe that overseas visitors should be able to access our NHS as long as they make a fair contribution, just as the British taxpayer does.

"The NHS is a national, not an international, health service and I commend the government’s determination to stamp out misuse of the system to ensure it remains free at the point of need in this country."

However, campaigners have said that this does not go far enough with reports since the government's announcement last May showing that junior doctors and other staff members of migrant origins have still found themselves having to pay the fee.

This was described in a statement by the Doctors Association as "an insult to our colleagues who have served this country during our time of need.”

Meanwhile, migrant workers on the NHS frontline have remained at risk of deportation due to the government delaying a vote on a private members bill that would have given them the right to remain, which had originally been scheduled for January 15 this year, while campaigners have sought assurances that all NHS staff, not just those in direct medial roles, will be exempted from the charge and will continue to be so after the crisis has abated.

Mrs Harris said: "Why, particularly in this time of national crisis, are we penalising the very people we are relying on the most?

"Why is this government not scrapping the implementation of the NHS migrant worker visas completely?"