As bold as brass”, the saying goes. Isn’t the United Kingdom government audacious? Despite its National Health Service being one of the industrialised world’s most efficient health care systems (and substantially of lower cost than those of other advanced European countries such as France, Germany, Sweden or Switzerland) , the UK is not resting on its laurels to further fortify its health sector.
Similar to the opportunities offered in 2002-2008 through the HSMP scheme for highly skilled professionals to relocate to the UK with their family members, the UK government is at it again. Unlike the HSMP programme, this time round, the scheme is designed to bring the best of global health professionals to work in the NHS and for the NHS commissioned service providers thereby limiting the opportunities basically to doctors, nurses and other health professionals. The programme is christened “Health and care visa”.
The idea of the “Health and care visa” was initially trumpeted to the members of the public by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in November 2019 while campaigning to “Get Brexit Done” when he unveiled plans for half-price visas and preferential immigration processes for doctors and nurses wanting to work in the UK. There and then, he promised to introduce the programme after the UK must have ‘brexited’ Europe.
Echoing the stand of the Prime Minister ( and of course that of the Conservative Party) on the initiative, the UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, also said: “These measures are part of our plan for an Australian-style points-based immigration system that allows us to control numbers while remaining open to vital professions like nurses. That means the best of both worlds – attracting talent from around the world so our NHS continues to provide brilliant service while ensuring that it isn’t put under strain by opening Britain’s borders to the entire world.”
Reacting to the statements made by the PM and the HS then, Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, confirmed the position of things when she said “…Failure to train enough nurses is leaving (the) NHS and social care short-staffed and forced us to recruit overseas in the short-term…There are tens of thousands of unfilled nursing jobs and we need more ambitious plans than this to address it.”
While the UK ‘brexited’ Europe in January 2020, the birth of the programme was delayed by COVID-19 and was eventually unleashed for commencement on August 4, 2020.
The programme comes as a newly added species to Tier 2 (General) of the Point Based System (PBS) and listed in Paragraph A3 of Tier 2 Policy Guidance (version 07/20) is a list of the professionals that can take advantage of the programme. The list goes thus; Biological Scientists and Biochemists, Physical Scientists, Medical Practitioners, Psychologists, Pharmacists, Ophthalmic Opticians, Dental Practitioners, Medical Radiographers, Podiatrists, Health Professionals (not elsewhere classified), Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists , Speech and Language Therapists, Therapy professionals (not elsewhere classified), Nurses, Midwives, Social Workers and Paramedics.
The list above is exhaustive, so applicants must be taking up a job in one of the listed occupations to be eligible for the Health and Care Visa.
Why is it a “carrot-reward” programme? While successful candidates (upon their arrival in the UK) will be expected to commit several hours of their professional skills into serving the NHS and other health related service employers, they would have been enticed at the point of making their applications by the following:
(a) Fast-track entry: The Health and Care Visa applications will be prioritised by the UKVI (United Kingdom Visa Immigration) with the aim that the majority of the applications are processed within three weeks from the point of provision of information for biometric. This is a fair deal compared to the current timeframe for visa processing between eight and 20 weeks.
(b) Visa fee reduction: Contrary to the 2019 Home Office Immigration and Nationality fees for Tier 2 (General) applications, the Health and care visa applications will attract a reduction by half. The visa fee reduction will also apply to the dependants and partners of Health and care visa applicants.
(c) Exemption from Immigration Health surcharge: The Immigration Health Surcharge was introduced by the Cameron-Clegg government to deal with issue of medical tourism involving the NHS in England. Once the surcharge is paid, people are entitled to use the NHS in a similar way to the UK residents. The surcharge can be disturbingly high but the good news is that, the Health and care visa applicants and their family members have been exempted from paying the IHS.
(d) Opportunities for partners and dependants of applicants: As indirectly indicated above, successful applicants under the scheme will be able to relocate to the UK with their partners and dependent children under 18. The partners will also be allowed to independently look for gainful employment on their own as they bask in the euphoria of seeing their wards enjoy uninterrupted education in the UK.
(e) Key-worker status: The NHS (and other health oriented services) staffers are considered as key workers in the UK therefore, they are entitled to certain benefits that others are not privileged to have. i.e. housing support. This is a reward that is enjoyed upon arriving in the UK.
However, contrary to the 2002-2008 HSMP scheme when applicants were not required to have had job offers in the UK before making both in-country and offshore applications, because the health and care visa is available under Tier 2 (General), for applicants to be eligible they must have had job offer/ s (accompanied by Certificate of Sponsorship) in the UK.
Medical “brain drain” and the Nigerian factor: “I studied at Oxford and Harvard. Majored in Western hypocrisy”
– Colonel Moon. Unlike Colonel Moon who, having studied at Oxford and Harvard, majored in western hypocrisy, our government has majored in African (or did you just say Nigerian) hypocrisy. We are all witnesses to the “powers that be” leaving the shores of the country to receive medical treatments in better climes; our hospitals lacking the required facilities; most of our sanatoria buildings already derelict with accompanying dilapidated health infrastructures as ambitious Nigerian medical professionals gunning to ply their trades abroad are being challenged and scorned in some quarters.
You can read my lips on this; I love Nigeria to bits and I believe so much in the country but , the system has failed its people and most annoyingly, it has failed the medical profession and its practitioners.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation, and Development, Nigeria is one of the three leading African sources of foreign-born physicians while the Nigerian Health Watch, some time ago, found out that almost one in two Nigerian doctors (48%) practising in Nigeria have between five and 15 colleagues and friends working in the medical profession who moved out of the country in the two years preceding the survey. As Nigerian-born talented physicians like Dr Oluyinka Olutoye, (the foetus surgeon), Dr Austin Ugwumadu (the UK-based Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist) (etc.) continue to do well abroad, the searchlight will always beam on Nigeria with a view to snatching her best medical minds.
With the decline in health sector allocation in the 2020 budget (a whopping 13.12% decrease.) amid huge infrastructure gaps, doctors and other medical practitioners in Nigeria will not only blame their mass exit abroad on causative factors and systemic challenges they face in the country, but also on YOLO (You Only Live Once) belief so, off they go.
Ajigbolamu, a solicitor of the senior courts of England & Wales, wrote from England, via email@example.com