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Easy access to public toilets would cut social isolation, congress hears

RCN urged to campaign for more accessible public toilets, as many have closed due to funding cuts

The RCN should campaign for good quality, accessible public toilets so that older people and those with additional needs are not left socially isolated, nurses at congress agreed.

A passionate speech from Ella Cullen won huge support from members at RCN congress in Belfast, as she described the difficulties of needing to use the toilet more often as she gets older.

In an often humorous speech, the Cumbria branch president explained the complications that can accompany a simple trip into town.

Cafe toilets are for patrons use only, she said. So you go in, use the toilet and have to buy a coffee and then you have to run, because that gives you 20 minutes to get what you went to town for, before you need to go

The RCN should campaign for good quality, accessible public toilets so that older people and those with additional needs are not left socially isolated, nurses at congress agreed.


Ella Cullen described the difficulties caused by a lack of public toilets. Picture: John Houlihan

A passionate speech from Ella Cullen won huge support from members at RCN congress in Belfast, as she described the difficulties of needing to use the toilet more often as she gets older.

In an often humorous speech, the Cumbria branch president explained the complications that can accompany a simple trip into town.

‘Cafe toilets are for patrons’ use only,’ she said. ‘So you go in, use the toilet and have to buy a coffee – and then you have to run, because that gives you 20 minutes to get what you went to town for, before you need to go and have another “coffee”.’

More accessible facilities 

Ms Cullen spoke during debate on a motion that the RCN campaign for local government to provide accessible public toilets ‘catering for a broad range of needs’. 

RCN Coventry and Warwickshire member Philip Noyes said the motion was not an attack on the local councils that have closed toilet facilities in recent years due to funding cuts, but a call for a national strategy to address a serious problem.

London learning disabilities nurse consultant Jim Blair added: ‘People do, sadly, have to map their journeys into town by the toilets they can use. It is a crying indictment that toilets have been cut from the public agenda and public purse.’

He highlighted the importance of hospitals having toilets with reasonable adjustments for people with additional needs, clearly marked with a ‘Changing Places’ sign – used to denote facilities suitable for those who cannot use standard toilets.

‘Scared of not finding a toilet when they need it’

Retired nurse Zeba Arif, of the North West London branch, said: ‘I live in sheltered housing – all of us are over 65 – and most of the residents don’t go out at all because they are scared of not finding a toilet when they need it.

‘Think of their quality of life, not being able to go anywhere because of this very basic need. It could be your granny.’

RCN gastrointestinal forum chair Isobel Mason said: ‘More than 300,000 people across the UK live with Crohn’s disease or colitis. They need to access disabled toilets.

‘Can you imagine trying to change a stoma bag in a public, portable toilet?’

She added that Crohn’s and Colitis UK is campaigning for disabled toilets in supermarkets to have signs that remind the public ‘not every disability is visible’.


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