Deaf community backs letter to NHS trusts to use transparent face masks

Clear Mask created by LJA Miers

A clear mask created by LJA Miers are the type of masks the National Deaf Children's Society and members of Ipswich's deaf society would like to see. - Credit: LJA Miers

Members of Ipswich's deaf community have backed a national call for every NHS trust in England to use transparent face masks. 

The National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) sent letters asking NHS Trusts to remove the "serious communication barrier", involved with NHS workers wearing face masks and instead invest in "game-changing" transparent masks. 

Masks are still used in the NHS, which the NDCS says is a serious issue because lip reading becomes impossible and facial expressions are very difficult to read.

The charity says that transparent masks could "transform the healthcare experience for many deaf patients."

Reverend Penny Brinkley, diocesan chaplain with the deaf community in Ipswich, said: "Masks are an absolute problem for the deaf and hard of hearing, so anything that can be done to enable those with hearing problems to be able to lip read, will be an enormous help.

"This letter could enable deaf people to lip read, which is very important. They will also be able to read the facial expressions of those that they are communicating with.

"This, along with body language, gives us all clues as to what is being said, how serious or insignificant, if a person is happy or cross with us.

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"Face masks cover a lot of these vital visual clues to communication which can lead to misunderstanding causing distress in the patient.

"It will not only help the deaf as you would be surprised how many visual clues we use when communicating with one another, so this will be a plus for everyone.

"This hopefully will lead to a much less stressful and upsetting situation especially if one is already unwell and possibly in pain."

Laura Fowkes, from Ipswich, lost her hearing last November and described masks as her "worst enemy". 

The 38-year-old said: "My whole world has been turned upside down- nothing is the same as before- no tv or music, I can’t talk on the phone anymore.

"When I go out I have to wear a badge now as people don’t realise and masks are literally my worst enemy."

Susan Daniels, chief executive of the NDCS, said: "Everyone needs access to crucial information about their health and however they communicate, almost all deaf people rely on lip reading and facial expressions.

"Opaque face masks make these techniques much more difficult and this could seriously affect communication at a time when they might need it the most.

"Transparent face masks are fully approved and they could transform the healthcare experience for deaf people.

"Every trust in the country needs to make the investment now because it really could be game-changing."