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Home Office extends visas of overseas health professionals to help tackle Covid-19

Nearly 3,000 overseas doctors, nurses and paramedics are to have their visas extended for a year to assist the fight against coronavirus.

The Home Office said the extension, which is free of charge, will apply to about 2,800 NHS staff whose visas are due to expire before 1 October.

The Home Office said it has also lifted the restriction on the amount of hours student nurses and doctors can work in the NHS.

Pre-registered overseas nurses who are currently required to sit their first skills test within three months and to pass the test within eight months, will have this deadline extended to the end of the year as well.

This will give overseas nurses more time to pass their exams, while they spend the immediate term working on the frontline.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “Doctors, nurses and paramedics from all over the world are playing a leading role in the NHS’s efforts to tackle coronavirus and save lives. We owe them a great deal of gratitude for all that they do.

“I don’t want them distracted by the visa process. That is why I have automatically extended their visas – free of charge – for a further year.”

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation and chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “These sensible, pragmatic and timely decisions by the Home Office will be warmly welcomed by NHS staff and workforce leaders across the country. The visa issue in particular is something we have been urging the Government to consider and we are grateful it has listened.

“At this time of national crisis, we must do everything we can to support the NHS, including removing hurdles to facilitate the much-needed supply of frontline staff on the ground as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, the BMA called on the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide enhanced death in service cover to all frontline NHS staff.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, explained that the NHS Pension Scheme offers important benefits on death, but that these can vary depending on which scheme a healthcare professional is on.

Those who have opted out entirely therefore, are now faced with significantly reduced benefits compared to those who are active members – all at a time when healthcare workers are being exposed to a potentially lethal disease. 

In the letter, Dr Nagpaul said: “Retired doctors returning to the NHS (who were members of the 1995 section of the NHS Pension Scheme) to provide public service at this time of national need cannot re-join the scheme so their families would not receive a death in service lump sum.

“There are also issues for junior doctors and medical students that are being brought into premature working. As they are new joiners to the scheme, they will have less than two years’ experience and very little in the way of accrued pension to date. Therefore, even if they were an active member in the NHS pensions scheme, not only is the amount payable upon death to their family extremely low but no partner or dependant’s pension is payable.”

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