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NHS and care workers will be given clear face masks to help them communicate with people with hearing loss, autism, learning disabilities and foreign-language speakers.
A quarter of a million transparent masks with an anti-fogging barrier, manufactured by US-based company ClearMask, will be delivered over the coming weeks and will help staff communicate better with colleagues and patients who rely on lip-reading and interpreting facial expressions, the government has said.
Minister for care Helen Whately said: “This pandemic has posed numerous challenges to the sector, so we are always on the hunt for simple solutions to support those giving and receiving care.
“The introduction of clear face masks will help overcome some of the difficulties carers wearing PPE are facing communicating with people who rely on lip-reading. If this proves a success I look forward to increasing the supply to make sure whenever a clear mask is needed, there is one available.”
Roger Wicks, director of policy and campaigns at charity Action on Hearing Loss, said those suffering from hearing loss have frequently reported problems in accessing health and social care, where face masks are now in constant use.
“People need to understand the information and instructions that they are given by health and care professionals: ineffective communication and misunderstandings have the potential to harm the health and wellbeing of people with hearing loss,” said Wicks.
Professor Andrew Goddard, Royal College of Physicians President, said the masks will also help NHS staff and social care staff who themselves are deaf or are suffering from hearing loss, as well as patients.
He said: “Of course, lip-reading doesn’t work for everyone, nor is it everyone’s first choice. It’s important that all NHS employers and services find out what someone’s communication needs are and meet them, in line with the Accessible Information Standard.”
The Department of Health and Social Care claimed it has delivered more than three billion pieces of personal protective equipment to front line workers since the pandemic began, despite the initial reports of supply problems.