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The NHS, Explained: Britain's Front Line

On March 31st, it was announced that any Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics with visas due to expire will receive an automatic 1-year extension - completely free of charge.

The decision comes as part of the UK's long-term plan to tackle the current Coronavirus (covid-19) outbreak.

It's a significant step. According to the Home Secretary Priti Patel, the extension will apply to around 2,800 NHS workers across the country, and has been designed to offer "peace of mind" to busy workers whilst protecting the NHS.

For those who have resided in the UK for only a short period - or plan to do so in the future - it may seem strange that such significant legislation should be put in place to "protect" a public health authority.

That's why we've put together this guide to the history of the NHS, its services, and how it can benefit migrant health workers.

What is the NHS?

To answer this question, we need to look back over 70 years to the formation of the National Health Service.

In 1948, Britain - like many other countries across the world - was still recovering from the social and economic impacts of the second world war.

Before the war, however, healthcare in the UK was limited at best. Patients and clinical staff relied on an unstable combination of private, municipal and charity schemes in order to access and administer care.

In 1938, liberal economist William Beveridge penned The Beveridge Report - in it, he examined issues of poverty and public health, among other social issues.

The report, which was published in the midst of the war, proposed widespread reforms to the system of social welfare. This included a welfare state to support the poorest citizens in the UK, and a nationalised health service that would be subsidised by taxes.

After the war, efforts to rebuild the UK would begin in earnest. Many people in the UK's biggest cities were living with long-term injuries, or had seen their homes and communities destroyed by bombing.

In the summer of 1948, Health minister Aneurin 'Nye' Bevan spearheaded the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS), based on the proposals made by Beveridge.

It would be free for all 'at point of use' and go on to save millions of lives, regardless of wealth, status or means.

Today, the NHS is the UK's most beloved and valuable institution, and Bevan is hailed as a hero.

It remains free at the point of use. This simply means that almost anyone can access it without having to pay during or after treatment, as the costs are covered by taxes paid by every British citizen.

On entering the country, migrants and visitors are required to pay a small surcharge for services.

Crucially though, treatment for a vast range of illnesses and injuries remains free, even to tourists (the full list of treatments and charges can be accessed here). In other words, no-one in need of care is ever turned away from an NHS hospital.

There are a few exceptions to the 'free at point of use' rule.

Dental care, for instance, incurs a number of fixed charges dependent on which treatment is required.

Additionally, all prescription drugs are available for a fixed price of £9. For those who are under 18, elderly people, pregnant women and low-wage earners, this fee is removed and all prescriptions are free.

Why is the NHS so important?

The NHS is revered for its core values - universal healthcare, free at the point of access, available to all regardless of their financial situation or economic background.

As a national institution, it is also incredibly important during times of crisis.

Throughout the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic, thousands of NHS workers - including retired staff, unpaid students and volunteers - have stepped up to serve the public and provide round-the-clock care.

This country-wide system was already in place thanks to the local NHS trusts across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Without such co-operation, it would be far more difficult for local authorities to co-ordinate the vital work done by staff in hospitals, particularly within remote or isolated areas.

In a further tribute to the importance of the National Health Service, people across Britain were seen to show their appreciation for all NHS staff last Thursday.

Millions stepped onto their balconies and front porches, or leaned out of windows, to 'clap for carers', leading a nation-wide round of applause for the exhausted front-line staff.

Who are the front line workers?

Front line workers, as described by the conditions set by the Government as well as the provisions in the latest Home Office ruling, are clinical staff who deal directly with patients.

Doctors, nurses and paramedics are the most vital. However, all other clinical staff and those who hold a more manual role are also incredibly important during this time.

Staff such as cleaners and porters, who work hard to move patients across the hospital and keep premises as clean as possible, have also been praised for their hard work over the first few months of the crisis.

For now, though, the Home Office extension only applies to Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics and their families.

What does this mean for Migration?

As well as the proposals to extend all visas currently held by NHS staff, there has recently been a surge of positive legislation for international health workers looking to join the NHS.

Those looking to migrate to the UK following the end of the current crisis may find that their chosen role is on the 'Shortage Occupation List'.

This means that those who wish to come to the UK and take on a shortage role are given favourable terms by the Home Office during the application process.

Occupations on the list include Nurses, Medical Practitioners, Psychologists, Medical Radiographers and Paramedics. Anyone who falls into these categories is encouraged to apply for a position within one of the NHS trusts, and is far more likely to be successful in their visa application.

If you or someone you know is an NHS worker - front line or otherwise - and you require advice on Visa matters, we're here to help. Give us a call on 0161 531 2199 or use our contact form to get in touch today.

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