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National Deaf Children’s Society Urges NHS Trusts To Use Clear Face Masks

June 16, 2022

 

The National Deaf Children’s Society has written to every NHS trust in England urging them to start using transparent face masks because standard ones create a “serious communication barrier” for deaf patients.

The letters, co-signed by the British Academy of Audiology, said deaf patients could “miss vital information about their health” as opaque masks make lip reading impossible and facial expressions difficult to read.

It is likely that face masks will remain widespread in the NHS, as new guidance issued at the start of June states they will still be required in a number of settings, including cancer wards and critical care units, and staff may wear them in other areas depending on personal preference and local risk assessments.

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Susan Daniels, the chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “Transparent face masks are fully approved and they could transform the healthcare experience for deaf people. However they communicate, almost all deaf people rely on lip reading and facial expressions. Opaque face masks make these techniques much more difficult and this could seriously affect communication at a time when they might need it the most.”

The charity has written to each NHS trust’s CEO saying clear masks could be considered “a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act”, and reminding them there are about 9 million people who are deaf or living with hearing loss in England. It said deaf people were struggling to communicate in medical appointments and at risk of serious consequences as a result.

Their call comes after a planned pilot of transparent masks by the Department of Health and Social Care was cancelled.

Three types of transparent masks, designed not to fog up, are now approved for use as PPE in healthcare settings, and although they are not currently available on the NHS supply chain, they can be bought direct from suppliers. The government previously delivered 250,000 clear masks to frontline NHS and social care workers in September 2020.

“Medical appointments can already be very stressful, so no one should have to endure an exhausting struggle just to understand the advice they’re being given,” Daniels said. “Every trust in the country needs to make the investment now because it really could be gamechanging.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.

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