Deliveroo, the food delivery service, is to deliver 500,000 free meals to NHS workers across Britain as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies.
Sky News has learnt that the company will announce later on Sunday that it has begun delivering the meals to NHS trusts, and that it is changing its app to allow customers to donate funds for buying meals for doctors and nurses.
Sources said Deliveroo was in the process of signing up restaurant partners and corporate sponsors to support the initiative.
The company will also make a financial contribution of its own to the project.
It comes after a massive outpouring of public and corporate support in Britain for the NHS, amid concerns about the quality and availability of health workers’ protective equipment.
Pizza Hut’s UK operation has committed to donating 300,000 free meals as part of the Deliveroo announcement, according to an insider, while Itsu, the Japanese food chain, also plans to participate.
Deliveroo is understood to be planning to deliver meals in bulk to NHS sites when workers are at the end of their shift.
Its delivery plans include to the new network of field hospitals being set up across the country, including the new Nightingale Hospital at London’s ExCel Centre.
The company will also continue to deliver free food to vulnerable groups during the pandemic.
The pledge from Deliveroo is the latest in a series of benevolent acts by major companies around the world as the scale of the COVID-19 crisis has become apparent.
Some companies, including the giant American bank JPMorgan Chase, have chosen to make cash donations to combating the virus, while others, including Diageo, chemicals giant Ineos and luxury goods group LVMH have retooled production lines to help curtail infections by making hand sanitiser.
Others, such as the pubs chain JD Wetherspoon and Frasers, the sports goods chain controlled by Mike Ashley, have instead cast themselves as corporate villains by showing a callous disregard for their employees.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, who was diagnosed with coronavirus on Friday, said: “The nation needs the NHS like never before, and we must support every single colleague in the NHS.
“I’m delighted that Deliveroo and partners are playing their part in this great national effort with half a million meals for the NHS.
“We can best come through this if we pull together.”
Deliveroo’s free meals pledge comes days after its founder and chief executive, Will Shu, wrote to Boris Johnson to urge the government to promote the safety of restaurant food amid fears for the viability of thousands of outlets.
Sky News revealed last week that Carluccio’s, the Italian food chain, was on the brink of filing for administration.
Will Shu, CEO and founder of Deliveroo, said: “Those in the NHS working night and day to save lives are the real heroes of this crisis, and we want to do our small part to support them and the vulnerable who aren’t able to leave their homes.
“Deliveroo is a British business and, as the founder, nothing would make me more proud than to use the network we have built to support the NHS, and I know the restaurant sector wants to play its part too.”
The role of big technology companies in helping to mitigate some of the impact of COVID-19 has triggered fresh debate about the power and influence of the sector, particularly in areas such as its sophisticated use of customer data.
Some of those businesses, such as Uber and Amazon, have offered the government their technology and logistical expertise as they seek to repaint themselves as valuable corporate citizens.
Deliveroo has reduced its ‘onboarding’ fee to new restaurants since the outbreak of the crisis, and now offers same-day payment to outlets in an effort to help alleviate their cash flow challenges.
There have, though, reportedly been teething problems for self-isolating riders in securing the proof they need to provide the food delivery app in order to guarantee their continued work for the company.