Labour have accused the government of a “stealth tax on the NHS” after hospital trusts spent millions of pounds on an immigration skills charge as they sought to fill specialist roles.
Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust was the worst hit, paying more than £2m in the last three years, the party said.
Another three trusts paid more than £1m over the same period.
Download the new Independent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
The figures are based on an analysis of a Freedom of Information query submitted by Labour.
In total 52 of England’s 224 hospital trusts responded to a request asking how much they have paid since 2017.
The total came to more than £15m.
The £1,000 fee came into force in 2017 to howls of protest from doctors’ leaders who warned it would take desperately needed money from the health service.
Labour’s shadow immigration minister Holly Lynch said: “The immigration skills charge is a stealth tax on our NHS, which is nothing short of an outrage.
“Local NHS trusts require specialists from overseas, yet the Tories are punishing hospital budgets for their own failure to train enough skilled staff.
“The irrationality of the immigration skills charge for NHS trusts has been underlined by the Coronavirus pandemic. The Conservative government should be doing all they can to support the NHS. Instead, they are presenting trusts with an unenviable choice: either leave life-saving specialist roles unfilled, or fork out expensive fees for overseas staff.”
The immigration skills charge is an extra payment businesses can have to pay to employ a foreign worker, although there are a number of exemptions.
A government spokesperson said: “Right across the immigration system we are supporting frontline healthcare staff through initiatives such as visa extensions and the creation of the bereavement scheme. We are incredibly grateful for all the hard work that health workers and care workers continue to do in the fight against coronavirus.
“We’ve already taken steps to support the NHS during the pandemic by removing the Skills Charge for employers when automatically renewing visas. Our new Points-Based Immigration System, for introduction from January 2021, will go even further to make sure the NHS and wider health and care sector can continue to access the best and brightest talent from across the world.”