Campaigners call for fully accessible disabled toilets on every hospital ward
24 January 2020, 00:15 | Updated: 24 January 2020, 03:31
Disability campaigners are calling for every NHS ward to be equipped with a fully accessible disabled toilet in the future.
It comes in response to a government announcement of £500,000 of funding to install Changing Places facilities at acute hospitals in England.
The initial cash boost will only lead to 16 additional toilets, at 10 NHS trusts.
But ministers have defended the size of the investment, insisting it is part of a wider package, with an additional £1.5m to come.
Anna Morell, from Disability Rights UK, has welcomed the move as a "first step" but urged more ambitious action.
She told Sky News: "There are a quarter of a million people who need to use these facilities across the country. It would be amazing to see them in every hospital, and what we'd like to see in time is one on every ward - just like with [standard] toilets."
There are currently just over 50 Changing Places in NHS buildings in England, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
It is hoped that number will double "eventually" to more than 100, as a result of the new funding.
Kerry Thompson, 40, from Milton Keynes, has been campaigning for more fully accessible disabled toilets in public buildings for many years.
She has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair - and therefore relies on the hoist in such facilities to go to the toilet when she's out of the house.
Kerry told Sky News: "I'm an adult, I live with my husband, and I want to be able to go out and do a food shop, or go for dinner with my girlfriends, just the simple things in life that people take for granted.
"I'm not expecting everyone to understand what these toilets mean, but when I say they're life changing, they really are."
Close to her home there are only a handful of the special toilets, including one at the MK Gallery, which was installed when it was refurbished in 2019 with funding from the MK Community Foundation. It's already making a big difference for Kerry.
"It's meaning I can come out and enjoy myself, instead of being stuck in the same four walls, not enjoying life," Kerry added.
Today's announcement on NHS buildings follows a government consultation last year on making the building more of the facilities at shopping centres, supermarkets, cinemas and stadiums.
Caroline Dinenage MP, the minister for care, admits there is "still got a long way to go" before the facilities are widespread.
She told Sky News: "We want many more hospitals, as they're planning maybe expansion projects and redevelopments to think about Changing Places facilities. Also we're pledging to build many more hospitals, 40 new NHS hospitals, and we want to make sure that they also think about getting Changing Places in those developments."
The facilities are designed for "severely disabled" people and those with "profound learning disabilities".
They are larger than a standard disabled toilet and come fitted with specialist equipment, such as a hoist and a height adjustable bench.
Without them, disabled people or carers can be forced to change on a dirty floor, or limit what they eat and drink when out of the house.
Each Changing Place typically costs £27,000-£35,000. The number of them in public buildings in England has increased from 140 in 2007 to around 1,400 today.