A POOLE hospital medic and his family have just 48 hours before they must quit the UK.

Cardiac physiologist Paul Ermitano, his wife, Jamila, who works as a nurse and their baby son, who is just 15 months old, were told by the Home Office last week that they must return to the Philippines.

The Ermitanos have committed no crime and came here in 2015 at the invitation of the NHS because there was a shortage of workers doing their specialised jobs.

Now, however, following a mix-up over child benefit – they claimed it, were then told it was a mistake, and so repaid the money - their visas have not been renewed. The Echo also understands that because there is now deemed to be no employee shortage in Mr Ermitano's speciality he must earn at least £35,000 to gain enough points to stay.

Their battle to stay in Dorset began during the summer but has been brought to public attention by Dr Ben Neate, who works in Poole’s cardiac unit alongside Mr Ermitano, because he is so concerned about their plight.

Dr Neate, who also works as a GP in Ringwood, told the Bournemnouth Echo he started a petition to save the Ermitanos on the 38 Degrees site.

“I put it up at tea-time on Sunday, by the time I went to bed there were 777 signatures,” he said. That number had climbed to 1,498 by yesterday, as more people added their voice.

“Paul Ermitano, a highly trained cardiac physiologist, and his wife Jamila, an experienced nurse, are Fillipino citizens who gave up their careers overseas and came to Poole over three years ago to answer a plea from our beleaguered NHS for more staff to look after us," he said.

"Our world class health system returned their dedication by saving Jamila from life threatening obstetric complications when giving birth to their son.

"They have learnt our language, integrated into society, paid their taxes and cared for our sick with a gentle compassion that we would usually only find among our own kin. Yet they have been failed by our complicated immigration and social care system,” said Dr Neate.

He is calling on Home Secretary Sajid Javid – himself the son of immigrants – to save the Ermitanos from deportation. “If he really can’t then we would respectfully ask that he allows them to stay until Jamila has had her new baby, due in the New Year, because of the fear of complications,” he says.

The Daily Echo contacted the Home Office for comment but, at time of going to press, no statement was given.

Mr Ermitano, who lives in the Longfleet area, described his family’s situation as ‘terrible’. “It was a massive shock to us," he said. "We have been fighting this from July and they have given us appeals although, this time, they want us to leave right away.”

He said that all legal advice they’d managed to get had informed them that they had choices including a judicial review, or an application under the Human Rights Act, but they believed a review might fail and they would not be able to afford the fees.

Because of the family’s status they have been forced to stop working and have been trying to sell all their possessions in the past few weeks, in order to gather up as much money as possible for a possible journey back to the Philippines, where they have no jobs or income, either. They are not even entitled to free NHS care anymore.

Mr Ermitano said he felt ‘awful’. “I was trying to help people here and at the same time raise my family and all we want to do is live peacefully and this is how it is paid back,” he said.

Dr Neate said the situation, when the NHS still needed so many skilled staff ‘beggars belief’.

Poole Hospital described Mr Ermitano as a 'valuable member of our team fulfilling an important role here in Poole Hospital'.

"We are liaising with the relevant team at the Home Office to understand if there is anything further we can do as his employer to support his visa application," said the hospital. "We hope that a settlement acceptable to all parties can be achieved.”

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “This is a heart breaking example of how Theresa May’s immigration policies have damaged our NHS.

“The Government is forcing families out of the country even when they are badly needed working here in our understaffed NHS.

“Ministers ought to step in and intervene in this case.”

The Home Office said it had contacted the Ermitanos to say their application would be reconsidered.