See-through facemask to help lip-readers is approved for NHS use

Sam Russell
·3-min read

A see-through face mask that makes lip-reading possible has been developed by a team at a Cambridge hospital and approved for NHS use.

The transparent mask, designed at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, is now registered with the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as a CE marked medical mask.

This means it conforms to health, safety, and environmental protection standards in Europe and can be utilised by hospitals, care homes and in primary care.

It includes the same level of bacterial filtration and splash protection as the blue surgical masks most commonly worn in medical settings, Addenbrooke’s said.

The masks do not use metal components and so can be worn by patients and those administering MRI scans, and in operating theatres where communication between surgeons is challenging using non-clear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Watch: How to make a face mask from a bandana and two rubber bands

The mask is clear at the top with three-ply polypropylene filter material below the chin.

Professor Paul White, of clinical engineering department, led the project, which started last April, in response to a need highlighted by a nurse who wears hearing aids.

Junior Sister Emma Ayling, who manages a busy outpatient department at Cambridge’s Rosie Hospital, is an accomplished lip-reader and raised the need for such a mask.

NHS England (NHSE) had also highlighted the clinical need for a clear mask but procurement teams found there was nothing on the market that gave them the level of protection and function required, Addenbrooke’s said.

Mr White said: “There has been a need for a clear mask, which meets our functional, bacterial and viral requirements, across the whole health and care system since the start of the pandemic last March.

Design and innovation engineer Abi Bush demonstrates the new see-through mask. (Cambridge University Hospitals/ PA)
Design and innovation engineer Abi Bush demonstrates the new see-through mask (Cambridge University Hospitals/PA)

“The mask has now gone through clinical evaluation, and independent viral and bacterial testing.

“It could be used across the NHS and Europe and there is no reason why it could not be used worldwide, with appropriate regulatory approval.

“I am very proud of not only my team but everybody working on the project, and our industrial collaborators who have brought this project to reality.

“It is with their input, determination and dedication during this difficult period, which will benefit the communication needs of our patients and staff and those of others.”

Ms Ayling, who specialises in Gynaecology and Early Pregnancy Care, said: “Within Gynaecology, we undertake outpatient diagnostic services as well as consultations.

“I am able to lip-read patients and staff wearing the clear mask, optimising my level of care, compassion and communication.”

Manufacturing partner LJA Miers, based in St Neots in Cambridgeshire, gave input to make the mask suitable for mass manufacture and is to be the manufacturer of the new clear mask, called the Panoramic Mio-Mask.

Tony Barber, commercial director of LJA Miers, said: “The company, which has a background in the automotive industry, completely repurposed its facilities at the start of Covid-19 to assist with the supply of visors.

“We are delighted to be doing our part in the fight against Covid-19 by providing clinicians and their patients the protection they need at such a challenging time for everyone.”

Watch: How to wear a face covering comfortably