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Communication tips for health and social care professionals

Page last updated: 27 July 2020

We’ve updated our advice for health and social care professionals when communicating with people who are deaf or have hearing loss in the context of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

There are 12 million people in the UK with hearing loss, including an estimated 900,000 with severe or profound hearing loss.

As over 70s are at higher risk of becoming severely ill due to coronavirus, and more than 70% of people over the age of 70 have hearing loss, it is vital that health and social care professionals are aware of the communication needs of this population.

COVID-19 also poses unique challenges for communicating with this group, as many of those with hearing loss rely on visual cues, such as lipreading and facial expression, for communication. This visual information is lost when someone is on a telephone or wearing a mask. Remote consultations on the telephone, or communicating with health professionals wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) can be difficult or impossible for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

The Equality Act requires reasonable adjustments to be made to support disabled people, including providing information in an accessible format. The Accessible Information Standard puts a legal requirement on all health and social care providers to identify communication needs and provide information in people’s preferred format. Accessible standards must be upheld, even in these unprecedented times.

Below, we set out a number of simple tips that should be adopted by health and social care professionals:

Ask for and meet communication needs where possible

  • Instead of using the telephone, where possible use video conferencing tools and add live captioning through video conferencing software.
  • Utilise RelayUK for people with hearing loss.
  • Check if the person using your service is wearing a hearing aid and that it’s working. If the hearing aid isn’t working, contact audiology locally for advice or for a personal listener to amplify sound.
  • There are live speech-to-text apps available, though with varying levels of accuracy. If these are used, understanding must be checked.
  • Utilise Video Relay Services, such as InterpreterNow, for British Sign Language users.

General communication tips

Where lipreading is possible:

  • Make sure there is adequate lighting.
  • Face the person you are speaking to. 
  • Get the person’s attention before speaking. 
  • Use normal lip movements, facial expression and gestures.

The following tips are particularly important when the person using your service cannot use visual cues, for example when you’re on the telephone or wearing PPE:

  • Speak clearly – avoid shouting or speaking unnecessarily slowly.
  • Say things differently if people ask you to repeat what you’ve said or do not understand.
  • Check understanding by asking the person to repeat information back.
  • Use plain language and be straight to the point.
  • Reduce background noise as much as possible.
  • Where possible, also provide written information.
  • If requested, speak to a relative or friend.

Download a PDF of these communication tips for health and social care professionals