Hungry Lion employees will have access to medical advice through a teleconsult that could lead to an actual visit with a GP and medicines if necessary. Picture: 123RF/DOLGACHOV
Hungry Lion employees will have access to medical advice through a teleconsult that could lead to an actual visit with a GP and medicines if necessary. Picture: 123RF/DOLGACHOV

Voluntary salary sacrifices and an innovative new service will ensure that all staff of a fast-food chain will have access to health-care services during the coronavirus pandemic and possibly beyond.

Hungry Lion's almost  2,900 staff across SA have to date relied on government health-care services, but the company and a health-care network have devised a low-cost plan that went live last week. They now have access to professional advice and referrals to general practitioners and medication if necessary.

Hungry Lion has closed for the lockdown while continuing to pay staff, CEO Adrian Basson said, but in the face of the coronavirus threat the company had decided that health-care cover would be expanded beyond managers and assistant managers. Vulnerable workers should not  risk visiting public health facilities if they were ill.

He appealed to National Health Care executive chair Reinder Nauta to devise a plan to ensure the fast-food outlets’ workers can safely get professional medical  help if they fall ill during the crisis. Basson sacrificed his own salary and that of the company directors and other senior staff to pay for it.

Hungry Lion was already paying for more than 260 managers, assistant managers and head office staff to belong to National Health Care’s primary health-care plan that provides unlimited access to its network of 3,000 general practitioners, acute medicines, X-rays and basic optometry.

The Health Profession Council of SA’s decision to allow phone or video consultations with doctors and other practitioners enabled health-care professionals to consult safely during the Covid-19 crisis. It also gave the National Health Care the opportunity to offer an even more affordable service through its MediClub Connect.

MediClub offers a medical advice service on WhatsApp that gives employees a cheap way to connect with health professional from home.

Nauta says employees are asked questions about their health on WhatsApp that are filtered by an algorithm. Depending on their answers, they will be called by a nurse or doctor. If these professionals deem it necessary, the employee will be referred to one of the doctors in the National Health Care network for a physical examination, he says.

Nauta says the National Health Care offers unlimited access to general practitioners, some X-rays and blood tests and acute medicines from almost any pharmacy across the country to employer groups at a maximum cost of R95 per employee a month.

This cost covers the National Health Care’s administration fee and it advises employers to set aside the balance of the fee on their balance sheets. If the costs and administration fee amount to less than this, the employer pays the lower amount.

Basson and the directors of Hungry Lion agreed to pay for the service for all staff by forfeiting  his salary and directors’ fees for the rest of the year.

He also asked all head office and regional managers take voluntary pay cuts as much as they could afford to pay for the benefit and many did, he said.

The company has also decided to use any profit made for the next six months to offer relief to store staff and help preserve jobs.

While the relaxation of the lockdown to level four will enable some fast food outlets to deliver cooked food, Basson says Hungry Lion serves areas that are not able to pay the higher prices that delivery entails. The more than  142 stores about the country will probably stay closed until level two.

He hopes that the company will be in a financial position to continue funding the health-care benefit for all staff beyond the next three to four months, but says this will depend on when the business reopens and on future sales.

Nauta says MediClub is an alternative for employers who will struggle to continue to pay medical scheme subsidies for their staff.

National Health Care is accredited as an administrator and managed-care entity by the Council for Medical Schemes. The company’s founding shareholder is African Rainbow Capital.

It provides services including unlimited general practitioner (GP) visits, medicines, basic blood tests and X-rays through its network to about 5,000 employees as occupational health care.

In 2019 the company obtained the Enablemed GP Network from EOH and is now providing network services to about 40,000 people on low-cost medical scheme options.