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There is help at hand for when you suddenly need to go!

May 2019

The number of public toilets in the UK is reducing
The number of public toilets in the UK is reducing

If you have ever been on a day out, and searched desperately for a public toilet, you are not alone. The closure of hundreds of council run toilets and a general lack of public toilets across the UK has been attracting complaints for some time. Unfortunately, the provision of public toilets is not a statutory requirement. Last year the total count of council run public toilets was 4,486, down from 5,159 in 2010 and numbers are still reducing. There are now 37 areas where the major councils no longer support any public toilets at all.

That really isn’t helpful when you are suddenly caught short. A report by the Royal Society for Public Health says that public toilets should be considered as essential as streetlights, roads and waste collection. It has even worked out that there should be a fairer provision of public toilets, with two female loos to every male one.

Much of the problem is due to a need to visit the toilet more as we age. This is a very common condition that affects men as well as women, and can occur for many reasons.

Basically the body stores urine in the bladder. When you urinate, the muscles in the bladder tighten to move urine into a tube called the urethra. At the same time, the muscles around the urethra should relax which lets the urine pass through and flow out of the body. Muscles can change as we age, including the muscles around the bladder and urethra, causing perhaps a frequent need to urinate or even worse, a sudden leak.

There are other causes of course, including weak pelvic floor muscles; blockage from an enlarged prostate in men; or damage to the nerves that control the bladder caused from diseases such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease.

But, as with so much to do with health, it is not necessarily one straightforward cause that results in an urgency to visit the toilet. As we age, our kidneys can become less efficient at concentrating urine and can draw in more water from elsewhere in the body. The bladder may be losing some of its storage capacity. The urethra may be shortening or its lining thinning, making it less efficient. Then, as we age, we may produce less of the hormone aldosterone which helps fluid retention; and in women lower oestrogen levels can be associated with more visits to the loo. 

If you have a problem, it is always worth talking to your doctor to try and find out the underlying causes.

But whatever the reason, people really shouldn’t stop going for lovely days out just because of concern about finding public toilets.

As the problem has become more recognised, there is lots of help on hand through online sites and apps that can locate the nearest toilet for you. If you are visiting a certain area, it is easy to check out beforehand where the public loos are and then even adapt your timing or routes to ensure you won’t suddenly be caught out. Useful websites and apps include the excellent Great British Public Toilet Map. Sponsored by Domestos, it is the UK’s largest database of public accessible toilets, listing over 11,000 facilities.

There are also online apps which can pinpoint your nearest convenience. Help can also be found at the Bladder and Bowel Community, started in 1989 and now a recognised centre offering support re symptoms concerning the bladder and bowel. They offer a number of helpful aids too including a smart Just Can’t Wait card. It looks like any other plastic card in your purse, but explains quickly and clearly that you need to visit the loo very quickly. This means in most cases when you show it you can skip any queue. The card is free.

Finally, of course most large shops and chain restaurants will turn a blind eye if you pay a quiet visit to their toilet facilities. After all, they probably pay thousands in advertising to try and get people to step into their premises, and walking through to the toilet, you might just see something you want to buy or a place that really appeals. So don’t feel too guilty although it can be polite to ask first...if you have time!


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