Background: Surgical and respirator masks are worn to reduce the risk of droplet and airborne transmission of viral respiratory disease. As a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, mask wearing has been designated mandatory for staff working in UK hospitals for the foreseeable future. It is thus timely to consider the long-term implications of mask wearing on communication within healthcare settings. Aims: The primary objective of this paper is to identify research evidence which corresponds with the mask wearing experiences of patient-facing healthcare professionals. By drawing together a summary of literature illustrating the potential challenges associated with mask-wearing, it is possible to make application to various clinical cohorts and to formulate a set of preliminary, evidence-based support strategies. The paper additionally aims to explore the role for the Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) in supporting communication in the context of mask wearing. Methods: Through a scoping review of the relevant literature, this paper reflects holistically on the prospective challenges associated with mask wearing across a variety of healthcare settings and patient populations. The subsequent conclusions have been used to inform the proposed clinical guidelines for safe and effective practice. Main Contribution: There is a current research gap in regards to mask wearing in non-medical and non-clinical healthcare workers and the impact this may have on both a professional and personal basis. In the absence of preliminary data, the development of associated communication support strategies is hindered. This paper draws upon a variety of clinically conceivable issues, outlines important practical and ethical considerations, and proposes evidence based solutions to some of the challenges identified. Conclusions: Although undoubtedly essential in protecting the health of both staff and patients, there are numerous logistical, physiological, psychological, social and economic complications associated with the wearing of masks. The ability of healthcare staff to successfully communicate with patients and with colleagues is jeopardised, which may adversely affect the efficiency, effectiveness, equitability and, most notably, the safety of therapeutic intervention. The Speech and Language Therapist has a distinct role in facilitating communication in order to safeguard the provision, accessibility and efficacy of services.
Key words: Acquired Brain Injury (ABI); Speech and Language Therapist (SLT / SALT / SLP); Communication; Cognition; Interaction; Psychosocial.