Supporting BME communities in a targeted pandemic response

The Lewisham Primary Care BME Network has worked together with the Do No Harm Collective to create coronavirus resources designed specifically to support BME communities. Vice chairs of the network, Julie Roye and Dr Magda Branker, explain why they thought the resources were needed.

When the inequalities of the effects of COVID-19 became clear, even from the early days of the pandemic, with disproportionate cases, hospitalisations and deaths among black and minority ethnic (BME) populations, we knew we had to do something locally to support our communities.

As members of the Lewisham Primary Care BME Network of NHS health professionals, we drew together colleagues and suggested working with the Do No Harm (DNH) Collective, an organisation dedicated to the enhancement of black lives in healthcare in the UK. We had seen their work promoting health awareness on social media and wanted to replicate it with coronavirus messaging.

We felt it was crucial to develop a resource designed specifically for BME communities because we know that people from these groups can often feel disengaged with health services and that their voices aren’t heard. For example, our patient satisfaction survey responses during the pandemic might have you believe that we were mostly treating women who were white; that’s obviously not the case, it’s simply that some people see the survey as not worth their while.

Getting the right messages out there

With our concerns about the amount of incorrect and misleading health information available online, we wanted to share the right health promotion messages quickly, using the platforms people were already accessing in their day-to-day lives. It was important to ensure people were able to access trusted information tailored to their needs, rather than simply listening to friends and colleagues, or taking natural remedies with no evidence of any benefits.

We needed to create something where our BME communities could see themselves and to show them that they are valued.

The DNH Collective were able to use their skills in infographics and health promotion, coupled with our clinical experience on the ground, to create a number of information sheets. They all feature faces of the BME communities, and include the main public health messages and tailored information such as specific advice on high-risk groups and diets including vitamin D.

The information sheets can be used by patients, staff and the wider community and they also cover wider messaging around infection control, how staff can encourage people from BME communities to seek help from their GP practice when they need it, and the issue of obesity alongside advice on healthy eating, increasing physical activity without a garden or the gym, and the benefits of weight loss.

Sharing the resource across the health community

With areas of key concern during the pandemic including compliance with mask wearing, supporting the uptake of the flu vaccine and keeping taking prescribed medication, we knew we had to act quickly to offset the dangers of the predicted second wave, in order to reduce morbidity and the risk of health complications.

We worked with the national messaging from NHSE, coupled with our clinical experience and local knowledge. We have shared the materials through the GPN BME network and received very positive feedback. We’ve also shared the documents with all the GP practices across London. We’ve been delighted with the response, with our contacts letting us know that they’ve now been sent it by multiple contacts recommending it as a useful resource.

What’s most important to us is to get the information out there and support self help. There are so many things that people can do for themselves without waiting for instruction from their GP. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a much greater impact on people living with obesity and diabetes. This is something they can help to better manage at home through simple lifestyle changes, as long as they have the information they need, and trust in the messaging.

Recent reports on the new Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine clearly underline the importance of trusted information for BME communities, delivered in ways that address their specific concerns and through voices that they recognise. A study from the Royal Society for Public Health found 57% of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people said they would take the vaccine, with its chief executive, Christina Marriott, saying that anti-vaccination messages had been specifically targeted at some ethnic and religious communities.

All this underlines the importance of making our BME communities feel valued and that their lives matter, so they can trust the messages coming out from health services rather than turning to questionable sources for information.

The coronavirus resource is available on and on the NHS Futures platform for health colleagues and has been shared on Instagram.

Julie Roye

Julie Roye is an advanced nurse practitioner at Amersham Vale Training Practice, Primary Care Nurse Consultant Lewisham and national BME GPN joint lead nurse.

Magda Bbranker

Magda Branker is GP Partner and GP Trainer at Amersham Vale Training Practice.