Deaf charity urges health trusts in NI to use 'game-changing' transparent face masks
A CHARITY supporting deaf people has urged health and social care trusts across Northern Ireland to use "game-changing" transparent face masks.
The National Deaf Children's Society is calling on the trusts to help remove the "serious communication barrier".
It says that around one in seven people are deaf or living with a hearing loss and could be "at risk of missing vital information about their health".
With more than 200,000 people in the north who are deaf or living with a hearing loss, the charity has written to all five health and social care trusts urging them to start using transparent face masks.
The letters, co-signed by the British Academy of Audiology, warn that is a "serious issue" because whenever opaque face masks are used, lip reading becomes impossible and facial expressions are difficult to read.
This leaves deaf people struggling to communicate in medical appointments and at risk of serious consequences, such as being unable to understand vital information about their health.
With face masks likely to remain widespread in trusts in a variety of settings, including cancer wards and critical care units, the charity is calling for transparent masks to be used, which it says could "transform the healthcare experience for many deaf patients".
Writing to each trust’s CEO, it said the masks could be considered "a reasonable adjustment under the Disability Discrimination Act" and confirmed it would be encouraging all its members to ask trusts to try them.
The charity decided to act after a planned UK-wide pilot was cancelled, even though three transparent masks are now approved for use as PPE in healthcare settings.
Although they are not yet on the NHS supply chain, they are available for purchase direct from suppliers. The charity says every health and social care trust should purchase some as soon as possible.
Susan Daniels from the National Deaf Children’s Society 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 needs to make the investment now because it really could be game-changing."