LONDON: The British government has reversed a decision to exclude low-paid foreign NHS workers from a COVID-19 bereavement scheme after an emotional plea from a Syrian refugee.
Hassan Akkad, who works as a hospital cleaner in London, said he felt “stabbed in the back” after learning his family would be excluded from a scheme that granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK to relatives of NHS staff who died from the disease.
Within hours of his video being published, the home secretary, Priti Patel, reversed the policy, saying the scheme would apply to all foreign NHS staff.
Akkad took on the cleaning job at Whipps Cross Hospital in March because he wanted to help during the pandemic and thank the community that made him feel at home.
In his video, however, he said he felt betrayed and made a tearful appeal to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to change the policy.
“I’ve been really enjoying the clapping that you and your fellow ministers in the government do every week,” the 32-year-old said.
“Today, however, I felt betrayed, stabbed in the back. I felt shocked to find out that you’ve decided, your government decided, to exclude myself and my colleagues who work as cleaners and porters and social care workers, who are all on minimum wage, you’ve decided to exclude us from the bereavement scheme.
“So if I die fighting coronavirus my partner isn’t allowed an indefinite leave to remain. This is your way of saying thank you to us?”
Akkad said he hoped Johnson would listen to his plea because he now saw a “different Boris” to the one who went into hospital intensive care last month after contracting COVID-19.
Announcing the change, Patel said the scheme would be extended to NHS support staff and social care workers.
“Every death in this crisis is a tragedy, and sadly some NHS support staff and social care workers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of saving the lives of others,” she said.
“When I announced the introduction of the bereavement scheme in April, I said we would continue to work across government to look at ways to offer further support. Today we are extending the scheme to NHS support staff and social care workers.”
The decision to exclude the lower income foreign workers was condemned by labour unions.
More than 170 NHS staff have died during the pandemic, with many of the victims coming from ethnic minorities.
Akkad has lived in London for four years. Footage of this harrowing journey to the UK was part of a documentary series Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, which won BAFTA and International Emmy awards.