Groundbreaking app trialled at Royal Preston Hospital allows voiceless patients to communicate

A groundbreaking app has been created which gives people who have lost their voice due to medical treatment the ability to communicate.

The new equipment is being trialled at the Royal Preston Hospital using the latest lipreading technology and is designed for people who have had tracheostomies and illnesses affecting speech.

What is a tracheostomy?

  • A tracheostomy is a hole that is created in the front of the neck where a tube is inserted in the windpipe to help you breathe.

  • In some cases, it is connected to an oxygen supply and a ventilator.

Nathan Armstrong had his tracheostomy five years ago which left him unable to speak.

He now has a speaking valve which he says can be quite exhausting.

Nathan said: "Breathing is hard anyway, so when you're trying to talk and you can't get your words out, the app is actually good because it speaks for you."

The app also helps Nathan communicate with his children when he is at home.

Nathan with his children at Royal Preston Hospital Credit: Nathan Armstrong

He continued: "At home I have got children so when I'm tired and really struggling, I can still communicate to my children and they know.

"If I go to the shops, I can ask them to help me pack my bags and won't just have people trying to lipread me. Not everyone can understand lipreading."

The app is a joint venture between the NHS and a Northern Irish company that pioneers lipreading technology.

Patients can add their own phrases to the app. Credit: ITV News

Professor Shondipon Laha, a consultant at the Royal Preston Hospital explained how he came up with the idea for the app.

Professor Laha said: "One of the patients I was talking to kept mouthing at me and I couldn't work out what he was saying.

"He looked quite distressed, until he elbowed me and when I turned around he was watching a penalty shoot out on the TV."

Professor Laha said understanding what patients are trying to say to you, especially with a tracheostomy can be ''almost impossible'' and that he isn't a great lipreader so for him the app is extremely helpful.

"Because it is continuously evolving, it will learn to recognise other forms of speech," Professor Laha said.

The creators are now trialling the voiceless app on stroke patients to see whether those type of speech and language problems are identified effectively.

The hope is that the app will be rolled out in hospitals up and down the country.