It's more than an inconvenience! The lack of public loos is bad for our health
Where is your nearest public toilet You probably wouldn’t realise how scarce they are until the next time you need to go.
The number of public toilets in the UK has fallen by 40 per cent in the past ten years, according to the British Toilet Association, thanks to cost-cutting measures by local councils. But these facilities are needed now more than ever.
We’ve all felt that urgent need to go from time to time.
Our lack of public toilets robs people of their dignity. People don't want to talk about their bladder problems, and I am trying to give them a voice
The bladder is directly controlled by the central nervous system — that’s why feelings of stress and anxiety can trigger the urge, but it’s also why when you’re holding on to a full bladder you can start to panic.
As part of this physiological response, the heart rate starts to rise. That might be OK if you’re fit, but if you’re frail, elderly, have high blood pressure or a cardiac condition, it can put you through a period of high blood pressure which could worsen your condition or even, rarely, trigger a heart attack.
Public toilets are urgently needed by more people than you might think — pregnant women, policemen and children, the one in five people over 40 who suffer with an over-active bladder and the many people living with bowel conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or the after-effects of bowel surgery.
When people with such health conditions go out, they make a mental plan in their mind of where they will be able to find a toilet.
So when they go out and realise that toilet is closed, or has disappeared, they become afraid of leaving the house.
Public toilets should be accessible, clean, light and safe, with good handwashing facilities – fairly simple requirements that a lot of toilets do not provide
As a nurse consultant and head of the continence service at Aneurin Bevan Health Board in Wales, I see patients every day who tell us they don’t go out any more because of this.
It not only restricts their lifestyle and independence, but can have all kinds of knock-on effects on health.
It can mean, for example, that a person stops going to their doctor, or their chemist, or their shop to buy fresh food. It means they become inactive and immobile.
I often speak to patients who stop drinking water if they know they’ve got to make that visit out.
This puts them at risk of dehydration and will only exacerbate their problem, because the urine becomes so concentrated and strong that the bladder wants to get rid of it, and they also become prone to urinary infections.
More than anything, our lack of public toilets robs people of their dignity.
People don’t want to talk about their bladder problems, and I am trying to give them a voice. It should be nothing less than a statutory obligation for councils to provide public toilets, at least in areas of high social activity and transport centres and stations.
These should be accessible, clean, light and safe, with good handwashing facilities — fairly simple requirements that a lot of toilets do not provide.
In fact, many of my patients say they would rather pay 20p to use a toilet in return for knowing it was there, available and decent. If all else fails, this might be the best solution.
Bladder and bowel problems are already blighting British people’s lives — we have a responsibility to help them.