NHS's overseas staff should not have to worry about deportation after heroism on Covid front-line – Christine Jardine MP

Possibly the most disappointing thing about the parliamentary report of the government’s handling of the pandemic was that nobody was very surprised at the criticism.

NHS staff who put their lives at risk to save others should be allowed to live in this country (Picture: Neil Hall/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Sitting across the chamber was to observe an almost unimaginable crisis of leadership in slow motion. Experts, organisations and politicians, including the Liberal Democrats constantly warned the government and called for quicker more efficient action.

Whether it was the snail’s pace decision-making, the failure of test-and-trace or the failure to pay self-isolating people properly, the Conservatives were begged by so many to change course.

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It is only now that the sheer scale of their failure of response, of planning and now of action to repair the damage is becoming clear.

And we are still constantly aghast at the lack of action. Now it is the failure to use the four years between the referendum and our eventual EU exit to prepare for the consequences of which they had been warned.

While the public and industry are fighting to recover, they are hampered at every turn by the employment and skills gaps which some of us warned of.

Heavy goods drivers, abattoir workers and hospitality staff. All in short supply and all vital for recovery. And in one area in particular. The NHS. Because as many of us strive for that recovery, a new sense of normal, it is still a long way off for our hard-working doctors, nurses and care staff.

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During the pandemic, they went above and beyond. They put themselves at risk each and every day to protect us from the pandemic. Calling them heroes just isn’t enough. It won’t actually do anything for them. It won’t help put food on the table.

Imagine then, if you were one of those fighting for your patients’ lives on a daily basis, while also living with the stress and anxiety that comes with the threat of deportation.

That is the reality for too many vital migrant staff on the NHS and social care front-line.

Given all they have sacrificed, the very least the Home Secretary could do is offer thanks by granting all NHS and social care staff indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

To continue to refuse is not only morally bankrupt but economically naive. To help them stay would not only benefit those directly affected but would support our NHS and contribute to the economy.

It is a vital area where they have the means available to them to ensure that we maintain and encourage those we need to work here.

For me it is simple – if someone is prepared to risk their life for us in this country, surely they must be allowed to live here?

We should never forget that the first four doctors who died from coronavirus were all born overseas, underlying the importance and sacrifice of migrant staff.

That is why I am pushing the second reading of my Immigration (Health and Social Care Staff) Bill this week.

My plea of the government is simple – back the Bill so the heroes looking after us never need worry about deportation again.

We should have already been at this stage, not falling behind our neighbours such as France who are fast-tracking nationality for those on the front-line of the battle against the coronavirus.

But in January, before the Bill was last due to be heard, the government decided to axe all days when Private Member’s Bills were to be heard and effectively killed the Bill.

I have also appealed directly to the government on several occasions but this has fallen on deaf ears. A service under immense pressure. An opportunity to help to alleviate that rejected.

With a looming winter crisis because a black hole of vacancies and record waiting times, now more than ever we need to stand by our NHS and care staff. This can’t wait.

Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said the country is suffering from “a real workforce problem in the NHS and in social care”.

According to the latest NHS figures, nursing and midwifery vacancies have been at a record high in Scotland since March.

The impact on us has been rocketing waiting times, including a record number left to wait in A&E for more than 12 hours. A Health Secretary in Scotland who asks us to think whether we really need help before dialling.

We urgently need a long-term workforce plan to ensure that health and social care providers are both staffed and supported. That package must include protection for migrant staff.

This shouldn’t be an issue that divides down party political lines and it isn’t. My campaign has support from across the political spectrum and organisation after organisation, from the British Medical Association to the Doctor’s Association, back it too.

The government can’t claim ignorance. Knowing the pressures the NHS has been under during the pandemic, they automatically extended visas by a year. Not just a few, but for some 10,000 eligible individuals. This Bill simply asks ministers to go one step further and make that permanent.

During the first wave, Dr Krizun Loganathan, who worked in a busy intensive care unit, told me that my Bill would lift a massive psychological and financial burden off the shoulders of these vital NHS workers, so they can continue to see us out of this crisis. They have been there for us, now let's be there for them.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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