To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment he has made of the implications for the Government's policy on the use of face masks of the Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19: interim guidance published by the WHO on 5 June 2020, on the of disadvantages of those masks for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
This answer is the replacement for a previous holding answer.
16 July 2020
The recommendations for the use of face masks by hospital staff and face coverings for hospital visitors have been made for to help prevent the spread of infection. Evidence has shown that those infected with COVID-19 can have very mild or no respiratory symptoms (asymptomatic) and potentially transmit the virus to others without being aware of it, so it is important we take steps to reduce the risk of transmission from staff who may be asymptomatic.
Staff working alone in a private workspace will not be expected to wear a mask but when they leave the private work area to move through the hospital building, e.g. on an errand, or for meal breaks, they should put on a surgical face mask as outlined in the guidance.
For some, wearing of a face covering may be difficult, and therefore all other measures must also be considered and introduced e.g. social/physical distancing, timed appointments; being seen immediately and not kept in waiting rooms. Individual risk assessments should be undertaken where required; for example, patients with mental health and learning disabilities. Such risk assessments must be documented.
The use of face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic may have an impact on patients who are deaf or have a hearing impairment as they can block the face of healthcare workers and prevent the ability to use visual cues such as facial expressions and lip reading.
The Government's personal protective equipment procurement team has sourced clear surgical face masks to support communication with patients who may be deaf or hearing impaired. They are working with regions to identify where those are best distributed.
Where clear masks are not possible, communication tactics should be considered to support patients and visitors who are deaf or have a hearing impairment.