NHS and care workers will be given clear face masks to help them communicate with people with certain conditions like hearing loss, autism and dementia, the government has announced.
The masks are see-through and have an anti-fogging barrier to ensure the face and mouth are always visible to help doctors, nurses and carers communicate better with their patients.
With around 12 million people in the UK thought to have hearing loss, the masks will be invaluable for people who need to lip-read to communicate during the ongoing response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The masks will also help those who rely on facial expressions to support communication. For example, people with learning disabilities, autism or dementia, or foreign language speakers and their interpreters.
The new deal with 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.
Clear masks reduce barriers for both patients and staff
Roger Wicks, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Action on Hearing Loss, said: "We welcome the procurement of clear face masks, which has the potential to improve the accessibility of health and social care services for those who rely on seeing facial expressions and lip-reading to communicate, including people who are deaf or have hearing loss.
"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."
Sarah White, Head of Policy and Campaigns at national disability charity Sense, added "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.
"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."