A senior health official at Brent Council acknowledged it failed to “engage effectively” with members of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Melanie Smith, director of public health at Brent Council, said its communications with these groups, who have been hit hardest by the virus, could have been better.

She told a community and wellbeing scrutiny committee on Tuesday (September 15) that this would be a key area for the council to address going forward and if the borough experiences a second wave.

“Initial messaging on how people can keep themselves and their families safe was not culturally competent,” she said.

“In the early stages of the pandemic, we didn’t engage effectively with all of our communities and we will look to improve the competence of our health messages.”

She added many BAME communities felt “disempowered” and “lacked agency” during the peak of the pandemic.

To address these issues, Dr Smith said there has been a move towards working with BAME communities, particularly through the use of ‘community champions’, rather than simply presenting the council’s plan to them.

She pointed out it held engagement sessions in Alperton and Church End – two areas that were hit particularly hard by Covid-19 – and has been providing “consistent messaging that made sense” to these communities, such as around shielding in multi-generational households.

“We have developed local messaging that is much more appropriate to the diversity of Londoners,” she said.

And Dr Madhukar Patel, chairman of Brent Clinical Commissioning Group, said the shielding list, which identifies who is most at risk of complications from Covid-19, has been updated based on ethnicity to “protect as many people as possible”.