Health boards urged to address ‘undignified’ lack of toilets for disabled

Laura Rutherford says there is a lack of suitable toilet facilities for her son, Brody. Photograph: Neil Hanna
Laura Rutherford says there is a lack of suitable toilet facilities for her son, Brody. Photograph: Neil Hanna
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Half the health boards in Scotland do not have a changing place toilet for severely disabled people who are being treated in hospitals.

The facilities are designed to meet the needs of people with complex care needs but seven out of the 14 health boards do not provide this key service. The toilets are much larger than the usual disabled ones and provide an adjustable changing bench for people in wheelchairs, along with a privacy curtain and an emergency alarm system.

A lack of suitable toilets is preventing people with complex disabilities who need assistance from taking part in activities such as shopping, eating out or attending sports events.

Without a suitable changing bench and hoist, many people with complex needs have to be laid on unhygienic toilet floors.

Laura Rutherford, from Bonnybridge, near Falkirk, whose six-year-old son Brody has multiple disabilities, said the lack of changing places toilets was “undignified”.

She said: “It’s awful, undignified, unsafe, and unhygienic. You think there’s the equality act and that would protect your child but it doesn’t at all. We’re limited as to where we can go as a family because there are only 157 changing placea toilets in Scotland.

“When you’ve got to change loved ones in car boots or on toilet floors it goes against everything you think should happen at a hospital. People are at risk, there’s manual handling risk and a lack of infection control.

“People self-medicate so they don’t have to go to hospital for appointments, they don’t drink so they don’t have to go and they end up getting urine infections.”

She said her son had to go to four hospitals, three in the Forth Valley and one in Glasgow, where the Royal Hospital for Children was the only one with a suitable toilet.

She added: “He is doubly incontinent so he wears nappies and when he was about three I realised that he wasn’t going to fit on baby-changing tables anymore. After that you realise your only options [for changing] are a toilet floor, a car boot, going home or basically leaving him in a dirty nappy. He’s got autism, epilepsy, a learning disability and a whole host of things.”

Shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “It is staggering that there are changing places toilets in only seven out of the 14 health boards in Scotland. The toilets are essential for people with complex needs.

“There are hundreds of people with complex needs being treated across NHS Scotland every week who do not have access to appropriate toilets.

“I will be raising this issue with SNP ministers and asking what actions they will be taking to ensure these facilities are available.”

Maureen Watt, the minister for mental health, said: “We recognise the need to support people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and their families. Unlike other parts of the UK, the number of changing places toilets in Scotland has increased in recent years. We are committed to continuing our work to provide more facilities of this kind.”