Supermarket group Tesco gives staff virtual doctor visits as UK health care crumbles

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Supermarket group Tesco, Britain’s largest private-sector employer, is to offer its staff virtual appointments with a private family doctor, in another indication of the pressures engulfing the country’s National Health Service (NHS).

The country’s biggest retailer told Reuters on Thursday the benefits package for its 310,000 UK workers would provide them and their families with access to unlimited appointments with a general practitioner (GP), seven days a week.

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Britain’s labor market remains tight, forcing companies to raise hourly wages, offer one-off bonuses, provide free food and give other benefits to attract and retain staff.

Tesco has already raised staff wages by more than 15 percent over the last year and its latest effort to retain people could encourage other big employers to introduce similar initiatives.

The NHS, which celebrated its 75th anniversary on Wednesday, was launched after World War Two to provide health care free at the point of use, and remains a much-loved institution.

But ongoing pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic and an ageing population mean it is struggling to cope with demand, with many people unable to get appointments with their local GP when they need them, and facing long waiting lists for hospital treatment.

Research carried out by Health Hero, which is working with Tesco’s health partner YuLife to deliver the new service, showed 84 percent of GP patients needed an appointment last year, but only 53 percent who wanted an appointment on the same day were able to get one.

According to NHS data, nearly five million patients each month in England wait more than two weeks for a GP appointment.

Tesco said the YuLife GPs would be able to issue private prescriptions, which can be collected at pharmacies on the same day or delivered to the worker’s home. Workers will be offered online video appointments or a phone call.

The suite of benefits will be available to Tesco front-line staff and managers, plus their immediate families living in the same household, across the UK, including Tesco Bank and the group’s wholesale business Booker.

Other services available to staff include access to sleep therapists, nutritionists, counsellors, exercise coaches and physiotherapists.

“This is a direct investment in the health of our colleagues,” Tesco’s UK people director, James Goodman, said.

Tesco, like other big employers and retailers, has previously provided more traditional benefits to staff, such as share schemes and staff discounts, and last year started offering advances on pay.

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