New report: Toilet access within the NHS

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Disabled people of all ages, and those who support them, are putting their health at risk because of lack of usable toilets within NHS hospitals and clinics.

Inaccessible toilets at UK hospitals and clinics are also having an impact on the health and recovery of people who may not identify themselves as a disabled person. People with dementia, bowel/bladder disorders, those receiving treatments for cancer or heart/lung disease, rehabilitation therapies or mental health illness for example.

Our 43 page report with a summary of key findings (below), brings together the experiences of patients and families.  

Contributors all have a long term health condition or illness which makes it difficult or impossible to use the toilets currently provided. 

Download the report from the link below.

NHS Accessible Toilet Report 2016

We a very grateful to everyone who participated, providing much needed insight of the urgent need for equality of toilet provision, within the NHS, to support physical and mental wellbeing.

 

Key findings 2015-2016

Stigma

  • Due to stigma, embarrassment and sometimes cultural or gender reasons, patients and visitors rarely complain about difficulties accessing/using the toilet or sharing their experiences.

Rights and Equality

  • Provision of toilets are the most overlooked Human Right contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK Human Rights Act.
  • Access to sanitation is a Human Right being ignored within the NHS.
  • Equality Act duties are not being met because a worse standard of toilet provision is provided for disabled people with no reasonable adjustment.
  • Patients who do not meet the Equality Act definition of ‘disabled’ are also affected by lack of facilities due to short term illness, injury etc.
  • NHS buildings are failing to meet building regulations or strive for British Standards. 
  • Standard wheelchair (Approved Document M ) accessible toilets are not meeting the health and sanitation needs of a wide range of people, particularly those with:
    • Obesity
    • Muscle weakness / neurological impairments
    • Spinal injury
    • Stroke related difficulties 
    • Limb loss
    • Shortened limbs
    • Arthritis  / joint immobility
    • Dementia
    • Diabetes
    • Urinary Incontinence including urgency needs
    • Bowel Incontinence  
    • Learning Difficulties
    • Brain injury and balance disorders.

Safety concerns 

  • Some toilets have been found to be unsafe e.g. by not using non-slip flooring, no emergency cords / unreachable cords or not having the right type and placement of support rails. 
  • Hospitals are failing to ensure dignity, safety and well being of patients, staff and carers by offering unsuitable alternatives to standard toilets.
  • There are 155 acute NHS trusts plus 56 mental health trusts as of October 2015.  Many having multiple buildings across several locations.   Out of all these buildings, only 42 provide a basic Changing Places toilet with hoist, extra space and bench access.
  • NHS staff, for the safety of themselves and patients, can not assist by lifting people from wheelchair to toilet or from a seated to standing position. Where Changing Places are not provided or other suitable equipment such as adjustable height toilets, patients must take a family member to do manual lifting/assisting. This has caused long term back pain for many carers and is painful and dangerous for those being lifted.

Poor signposting

  • NHS staff are not familiar with the needs of patients regarding sanitation which results in poor signposting to toilets / inability to locate a toilet and unsuitable ‘alternatives’ being offered.
  • Not all toilets are shown on hospital maps/signs – and the facilities in each are variable, resulting in difficulty locating a suitable toilet.
  • Very few NHS websites detail information about where toilets are located and the facilities in each – making planning for an appointment difficult.
  • Toilet signs are often difficult to understant, see or follow.

General Health and Wellbeing 

  • Women are worst affected due to the need to be seated on the toilet, menstrual hygiene needs, increased risk of urinary infections and being more likely to have bladder problems such as urgency.
  • Patients say they would rather miss appointments because of fear of not having toilet access.
  • Families are prevented from visiting their spouses/children or friends in hospital because they can’t access a suitable toilet.
  • Patients are choosing to stay at home rather than go to A&E where long waits and no usable toilets are normal.
  • Patients are having surgery to remove the need to sit on a toilet (ostomy or suprapubic catheters)  because of access reasons not because of a medical need.
  • A healthy adult empties their bladder every 2-3 hours, yet many disabled patients are avoiding food and liquids for several hours because they know they can not use toilets at hospitals and clinics.
  • Avoidance / withholding urination and defecation has caused kidney, bowel and bladder damage.
  • Patients are taking extra medication to prevent urination or defecation when outside their homes for several hours impacting work, leisure and attending health appointments/treatments.

Difficulties specific to wheelchair and Scooter users

  • Wheelchair and Scooter users can not get close enough to the toilet for safe transfer. (People with a wide gait, obesity, users of frames/walkers or crutches are also affected by this space restriction).
    • 82% of powered wheelchairs will not fit into the transfer space at the side of a toilet that meets current building regulations.
  • Out of 613 models of scooter and powered wheelchairs – only 140 can turn around in the turning circle recommended in the current building regulations.
  • Severely disabled patients are spending several hours in soiled pads whilst they attend hospital appointments because of no hoist or changing bench facilities.

 

The NHS, by its very nature, will serve a higher percentage of people who need very specific facilities to use the toilet. Therefore, adapted toilets need to be of a higher quality to maximise independent toilet use and maintain a high standard of dignity, safety and hygiene compared to other ‘away from home’ facilities.

Due the nature of a persons’s impairment, illness, injury or medical condition, they may:

  • need the toilet more urgently
  • spend longer on the toilet (and getting on and off the toilet). 30 – 40 minutes is an average time.
  • go more frequently
  • require furniture/equipment to aid removal of clothes e.g. bench/chair
  • need toilet provision beyond what is required within building regulations e.g. extra space, access to bidet facilities/washrooms, access to a hoist and changing bench, access to a height adjustable toilet or other equipment.

To substitute a dedicated room (that non-disabled people are provided with) which has a flushing toilet, sink, waste bins, toilet paper, privacy (locked door/single person use) and space for any of the following (which are common practice alternatives) is not appropriate and probably unlawful.

  • offering no support or equipment – no usable toilet.
  • offer of a commode, spare bed / cubicle (often with a wait) alternative for people who could use a toilet room if one was provided.
  • suggesting patients pre-arrange hoist and nursing support (where space exists to safely use these as a hoist can not be used in a standard wheelchair accessible toilet space). Few people know exactly when they will need the toilet to plan days in advance.

Many alternatives cause pain, embarrassment, and mental distress. Solutions exist because people are able to use the toilet in their own homes – so why not in hospitals and clinics?

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