The National Deaf Children’s Society has written to all NHS trusts in England urging them to start using transparent face masks because standard masks 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” because opaque masks make lip-reading impossible and facial expressions difficult to read.
Face masks are likely to remain prevalent in the NHS, as new guidance released in early June indicates they will still be needed in a number of settings, including cancer wards and intensive care units, and staff can carry them into other areas. based on personal preferences and local risk assessments.
Susan Daniels, chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: ‘Clear face masks are fully endorsed and could transform the healthcare experience for deaf people. Regardless of how they communicate, almost all deaf people rely on lip reading and facial expressions. Opaque masks make these techniques much more difficult and this could seriously affect communication at a time when they might need it most.
The charity has written to the CEO of each NHS trust to say clear masks could be considered a ‘reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act’, and remind them that there are around 9 million deaf and hard of hearing people in England. He said deaf people struggled to communicate during medical appointments and risked serious consequences as a result.
Their call comes after the cancellation of a pilot project for transparent masks by the Ministry of Health and Social Care.
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 purchased directly from suppliers. The government previously delivered 250,000 clear masks to frontline NHS and social workers in September 2020.
“Doctor appointments can already be very stressful, so no one should have to endure an exhausting struggle just to understand the advice they are being given,” Daniels said. “Every trust in the country needs to invest now because it could be a real game-changer.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.