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  • SMEs ‘must react’ to demand and support staff’s health and wellbeing remotely

    The pandemic is specifically affecting SMEs in terms of health and wellbeing benefits and what employers can do to react to employees’ changing requirements, writes Brett Hill, Distribution Director at Towergate Health & Protection…

    SMEs are missing out   

    SMEs often feel more restricted when it comes to employee benefits in general and healthcare benefits in particular. Whether it is due to budgetary restrictions, lack of options, or scarcity of resources, SMEs may find that they are not able to offer valued employees the rewards they would like. There are, however, options available and SMEs have the advantage of being quick to respond and adapt.

    Health and wellbeing behaviours have changed 

    The pandemic has resulted in long-term changes in health and wellbeing behaviours, with the issue moving up the agenda for SMEs, as they are less able to cover sick leave and absence due to self-isolation. There has been a sea-change in attitudes regarding how healthcare is accessed, with many people now actively preferring to access care remotely.

    The impact of the pandemic

    During the pandemic, direct access to GPs has become more difficult, with face-to-face consultations discouraged. Now, and throughout the course of 2021, is a critical time when NHS GP practices across the country will be occupied with the roll out of the UK’s Covid vaccination programme. With all of these factors combined, statistics have shown that employees may be reticent to approach their GP, and many illnesses and conditions are going undiagnosed. For example, Macmillan Cancer Support reports that 50,000 people have missed out on a cancer diagnosis due to the strains put on the NHS by Covid-19.

    Healthcare access for beyond the insured workforce 

    The pandemic saw the rapid roll out of online GP services to private medical insurance (PMI) customers in the spring of 2020, with many employees discovering the great time- and money-saving benefits of a virtual appointment. However, not all employers can afford to provide every employee with PMI, so there is a need for an affordable way for SMEs to extend their healthcare and online GP access beyond their insured workforce.

    Alternative options

    There has been a wealth of recent developments in making health and wellbeing benefits more relevant and accessible, particularly for smaller companies. An increasing number of options are becoming available and it is important that SMEs are aware of new developments.

    Many smaller companies offer cash plans: insurance policies to help cover the cost of everyday healthcare, like visits to the dentist, optician, or physiotherapist. New advancements now make the value of cash plans go even further and SMEs need to be on top of changes such as preferential rates for remote physiotherapy services, which provide enhanced value for employers and better outcomes for employees.

    Online wellbeing support 

    Many SMEs offer access to support via an employee assistance programme (EAP), which may be linked to PMI, group insurance or on a standalone basis. Remote clinical services are growing in terms of popularity and possibilities. As demand for mental health support has surged during the pandemic, so has the availability of online counselling sessions, which are now frequently conducted via video link, and can help improve the employee experience.

    Remote clinical services

    Likewise support for physical wellbeing is also now possible on screen. Even treatments as physical as physiotherapy are available to employees online. Remote private GP services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, enabling employees to receive unlimited advice, reassurance and, where appropriate, diagnosis, private prescriptions, and open referrals, from a practising doctor from wherever they are at the time they need help, even if travelling abroad.

    One of the benefits of working for an SME is the close working bond that employees can have, and this is reflected in how owners and managers look after their staff, often keen to extend support to family members and dependants. Online GP services help with this, as fast access to primary care can be extended to employees’ families.

    Such a service has traditionally only been available to those employees insured on PMI or group risk insurance policies, but standalone options enable companies to extend this to the whole workforce.

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