NHS and social care workers will receive 250,000 transparent face masks to help them better support people who rely on lip-reading and facial expressions to communicate, the Government has announced.
The masks will be delivered to NHS trusts across the UK over the next few weeks as part of a trial, while social care providers will also have access to stock through local resilience forums, following a deal with a US-based company.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) told Healthcare Leader that the Government ‘will be looking to distribute to other settings where there is demand, if the pilot proves successful’.
It added that in the meantime, ‘GPs and other healthcare workers can approach their local resilience forums to be part of their allocation process’.
The safety-approved masks have an anti-fogging barrier to ensure a consultant’s face and mouth is always visible to patients, helping them communicate more effectively with people with conditions such as autism, hearing loss and dementia during the Covid-19 pandemic, the DHSC said.
Roughly 12 million people in the UK are estimated to suffer from hearing loss. The masks are also designed to support older patients, people with learning disabilities and foreign language speakers and their interpreters.
The DHSC said it will continue working with NHS England and Improvement to make future orders depending on demand.
Helen Whately, minister for care, said: ‘The introduction of clear face masks will help overcome some of the difficulties carers wearing PPE are facing in 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.’
‘Ineffective communication could cause harm’
Roger Wicks, director of policy and campaigns at Action on Hearing Loss, said: ‘Since the outbreak of coronavirus, people have told us continually that they are worried about communicating in health and social care settings where face masks are now in constant use.
‘We know that clear masks have the ability to reduce barriers for both patients and staff across the NHS and social care services.’
He added: ‘People need to understand the information and instructions that they are given by health and care professionals, as ineffective communication and misunderstandings have the potential to harm the health and wellbeing of people with hearing loss.’
‘We hope that different services across the NHS and social care are able to access clear masks and effectively match them to patient need.’