A quarter of a million clear face masks are to be delivered to frontline NHS and social care workers over the next few weeks to help support better care for people who use lip reading and facial expressions to communicate.
The speciality clear masks will be given to help them communicate with people with conditions including hearing loss, autism and dementia.
The masks are see-through and have an anti-fogging barrier, ensuring the face and mouth is always visible to help doctors, nurses and carers communicate better with their patients.
Minister for Care, Helen Whately, says: “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.”
With around 12 million people in the UK with hearing loss, the masks will be invaluable for people who rely on lip reading to communicate during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
“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,” explains Roger Wicks, director of policy and campaigns at Action on Hearing Loss.
“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 well-being of people with hearing loss.”
The masks will help people who rely on facial expressions to support communication. This will be particularly helpful for people with learning disabilities, autism, dementia or foreign language speakers and their interpreters.
The new clear masks have met the government’s strict safety standards.
The new deal between the UK government and US-based company ClearMask will see 250,000 masks delivered to NHS trusts and social care providers across the UK over the next few weeks.
The masks will be distributed across the whole of the UK with the government working with devolved administrations on allocations of the masks.
The first delivery of masks has already been distributed to NHS trusts with further deliveries scheduled over the next few weeks.
“The last few months have been particularly hard on disabled people and a part of this are the barriers that PPE brings to many of them in terms of their communication.
“While PPE is of course vital in keeping everyone safe during this pandemic, many disabled people rely on lip reading and facial expression to communicate which means masks present themselves as a big challenge,” emphasises Sarah White, head of policy and campaigns at Sense.
“While clear masks won’t work for everyone and they can still present a challenge to some people, it certainly is a great first step which should be part of a clear and cohesive strategy for how we ensure that health and care services remain clinically safe at the same time as enabling disabled people to communicate and feel safe.”
Social care providers will also have access to the masks through a pilot system with Local Resilience Forums.
The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England and Improvement will continue to work closely with suppliers on future orders based on demand.
The deal is part of the government’s ongoing effort to distribute PPE to frontline workers.
So far, over three billion pieces of PPE has been delivered to the frontline and the government are working with around 130 new companies, including Royal Mint, Honeywell, Amazon and Royal Mail, to rapidly manufacture, source or distribute PPE at scale and pace.