THAT old adage: you find your true friends in a crisis.

Matt Hancock has been busying himself with what my former news editor used to call a "reverse ferret".

"It's the National Health Service not the International Health Service,” the minister punned last year as he announced a rise in the NHS levy for migrants from £400 to £624.

The increase is due to start in October this year, even migrant NHS staff will pay the higher fee in order to benefit from the very system they work to support.

Yet this week the health secretary's tune has changed. "Many of those who have died who are from the NHS were people who came to this country to make a difference," he said, "And they did, and they’ve given their lives in sacrifice, and we salute them."

The coronavirus crisis has brought a great many things in to sharp relief, not least making starkly visible how essential migrants are to our health service.

It was impossible not to notice that the first medics to die while working in the UK's hospitals to treat Covid-19 patients were migrants to this country. Dr Adil el-Tayar, 64, a transplant surgeon from Sudan. Dr Amged El-Hawrani, 55, an ENT consultant and also Sudanese. Dr Habib Zaidi, 76, a general practitioner from Pakistan. Dr Alfa Sa’adu, 68, a geriatrician from Nigeria.

These were the first four. At least eight migrant doctors have now died in England's hospitals, coming from Egypt, India and Sri Lanka. The cruelty and stupidity of the government's hostile immigration policy becomes humiliatingly plain.

Yet the fact that the NHS is propped up by its migrant workforce - and that it was built with support from a migrant workforce - is hardly news. The Caribbean nurses who arrived in Britian post World War II to help build the NHS were the start of a tradition of the service relying on outside help.

It does today: almost one in three doctors were not born in the UK while around one in five nurses are from overseas. In social care, migrant workers currently make up more than 18 per cent of the workforce.

What are bargain these medics are. Other countries pay for their learning and expertise - often countries more impoverished than the UK - and we benefit. On arrival they pay out in expensive visas and the NHS levy.

Their welcome to our health services includes a dose of discrimination, structural inequality described in a report by the General Medical Council as being caused by "multiple and intricately linked" factors. The GMC describes an "us and them" dynamic leaving migrant doctors without sufficient supports to settle into their new jobs and lives.

Even among peers there is an issue with migrant doctors being considered outsiders.

Internationally steps are being taken to make the most of migrant workers to support health services.

In the United States immigrants make up more than 25 per cent of all doctors but the wait for a green card can be lengthy. Now the worst affected states, New Jersey and New York, have cleared the path of bureaucracy and allow those who have graduated from overseas medical schools to work.

Germany put out a call to give training to foreign nurses and doctors who are not licensed yet to practice in the country and hundreds responded.

As doctors from China, Cuba and Russia arrive in Italy to help the Covid-19 response there, France has allowed its health services to recruit refugee graduates of medicine, pharmacy and dentistry.

Spain's government has plans to fast-track the status of 200 foreign-born doctors.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has been curiously absent during the coronavirus crisis should step forward now. The government has been focused on appealing to retired medics to step forward.

Yet there is a pool of migrant and asylum seeking talent that could be mobilised by allowing the GMC to increase registration of doctors and nurses.

Here, visas of nearly 3000 NHS staff from abroad have been extended for a year free of charge but this is not enough. There have been, rightly, calls for NHS workers to be given permanent visas. Hundreds of qualified people are unable to practice - the GMC and the government should be fast tracking their accreditation.

This is time for solidarity. The government has shown it can move quickly to create solutions that plug gaps in our failing systems.

The Brexit narrative came with warnings that Britain would lose much needed talent from overseas. If European countries are making it easier for doctors and nurses to work during a time when all hands are needed on deck then it stands that the NHS could lose as professionals unable to work here go where they can be useful.

Last night so many of those who took to their doorsteps with pots, pans and bonhomie to #ClapForOurCarers will have been the same voters who elected a Tory government on the back of its promises to tighten up immigration as a strawman fix to the UK's problems.

How many of those people fell for the lie that the migrant population strains the NHS's resources?

One hopes that, as they have seen the faces of Dr El-Hawrani and Dr el-Tayar staring from the front pages of newspapers, as they have read the story of nurse Alice Kit Tak Ong who gave 44 years of her life to the NHS before coronavirus killed her, they might stop and pause to reflect on who their true friends are in this crisis.

We owe a life's debt of gratitude to our migrant NHS workers and, when the coronavirus crisis is over, thanks to them, that cannot be forgotten.

It's never too late to pivot and urge for the right things to be done.