Government delivers 250,000 clear face masks to support people with hearing loss

Deal with US firm addresses communication difficulties posed by traditional face masks

ClearMask will help people who rely on lip reading to communicate more effectively with healthcare staff while aiding protection from COVID-19

250,000 clear face masks are to be delivered to frontline NHS and social care workers to help people who use lip-reading and facial expressions to communicate.

The masks are see-through and have an anti-fogging barrier to ensure the face and mouth are always visible in order to help doctors, nurses and carers communicate better with their patients.

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

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 COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

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 the masks delivered to NHS trusts and social care providers across the UK over the next few weeks.

Minister for Care, Helen Whately, said: “Everyone using our remarkable health and care system deserves the best care possible, and communication is a vital part of that.

“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.

“This applies across the whole of the UK and the Government is working with the devolved administrations on allocations of the masks. The first delivery has already been distributed to NHS trusts, with further deliveries over the next couple of weeks.”

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 wellbeing of people with hearing loss

Social care providers will also have access to the masks through a new pilot system with Local Resilience Forums.

Roger Wicks, director of policy and campaigns at Action on Hearing Loss, said of the move: “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.

“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 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. It will also be important that these masks are complemented by effective communication tips and deaf awareness among staff to ensure that people with hearing loss get the support they need.”

And Allysa Dittmar, president of ClearMask, said: “As a company that was started in 2017 in a response to the need for improved, visual communication for the deaf and hard of hearing community, we immediately understood the critical need for such see-through, transparent masks during this pandemic for many different groups of people.

“We were proud to help answer the call for critical PPE for the NHS, and this partnership is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of many individuals involved in the push for better accessibility and care during this time.”

Companies