The first public toilet in Britain opened over 150 years ago – and for a long time they were a matter of considerable civic pride.
But as more people began to have access to their own private toilets and demands on local authorities’ resources increased, the drive for public toilet provision started to drop.
In recent years, public toilet provision has fallen down local authorities’ list of priorities and as there is no statutory requirement for public toilets, it is up to the goodwill of local authorities to provide them.
Unfortunately, in this economic climate, this goodwill is weighed in the balance against other local demands.
In recent years, both the number and the standard of public toilets have fallen, becoming a cause for public concern. Many people plan their journeys around access to toilet facilities and their closure often results in people feeling a lack of dignity and can even mean some vulnerable feel unable to go out leading to social isolation.
The BSi in their draft Part 4 code of practice for the provision of public toilets (2010) recommends that local authorities ensure toilets can be easily found by users, and that they are situated on frequently used routes and in areas such as city centres and parks.
If the Government does not support these demands some of our most vulnerable groups will feel unable to go out without the assurance of access to clean, safe and accessible toilets, and are at risk of social isolation and loss of dignity.
Under the terms of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), disabled toilet provision should be equal to that for the ‘abled’, and where there is an abled toilet there should be a disabled toilet. Worryingly, instead of taking steps to meet this requirement, some authorities are instead closing down their public toilets entirely.
With a shift in government policy to encourage people to leave their cars at home and travel by public transport, cycling or walking, the provision and location of public toilets are more critical than ever.
This is an issue of vital importance to our patients and we have a role in raising awareness of the impact that toilet closures have on those in our care.
Patricia McDermott is senior specialist nurse in bladder and bowel care on Guernsey