New shopping centres, stadiums and theme parks are among buildings that could be required to provide Changing Places toilets for severely disabled people, under proposals to be put forward by Local Government Minister and Richmond MP Rishi Sunak.
Mr Sunak will launch a consultation next year on proposals that the essential facilities are included in all new large publicly-accessible buildings and significant redevelopments. Currently, building regulations guidance only recommends Changing Places toilets are provided.
Alongside this, the Department of Health and Social Care has announced £2 million to install over 100 Changing Places toilets in NHS hospitals throughout England. There are currently only around 30 to 40 Changing Places on the NHS England estate, and this investment will enable Trusts to increase accessibility.
People with disabilities and their carers say Changing Places in public can be life changing and allow them to go out in the public without fear or stress. Changing Places toilets are larger than standard disabled toilets and have extra equipment like adult-sized changing benches and hoists.
Mr Sunak was alerted to the issue in 2017 when he visited the Dales School at Morton on Swale, near Northallerton. Parents of students at the school, which caters for young people with severe and complex learning needs, told of the difficulties they faced when going out as a family.
They explained how the lack of suitable toilet and changing facilities at the majority of leisure destinations and attractions made a trip out most families took for granted difficult or impossible.
Mr Sunak said: “Changing Places toilets make a huge difference to the lives of severely disabled people. I want to see these facilities included as standard in new large buildings like shopping centres and cinemas, so more disabled people can be assured peace of mind and dignity when they are away from home.
“The government will consult in the New Year on how best to do this, including changing building regulations if required, if it means more disabled people can get access the essential services they deserve.
In the absence of Changing Places facilities, disabled people and/or carers face:
- limiting what they drink to avoid needing the toilet when they are out – risking dehydration and urinary tract infections;
- sitting in soiled clothing or dirty nappies until a suitable toilet is found or they return home;
- having to change a loved one on a dirty toilet floor;
- manually lifting someone out of their wheelchair – risking safety
- reducing their time out of the house – restricting their social lives
While the number of the facilities has increased from 140 in 2007 to more than 1,200 today, the government is determined to go even further to improve disabled people’s quality of life.
Among the parents Mr Sunak met at the Dales School was Andrew Newton.
He said: This news is fantastic and is a great foundation for Changing Places becoming common. I hope that businesses will take proactive action and install a Changing Place as a matter of need for their patrons rather than a requirement through law.
“We have already seen Lightwater Valley near Ripon install a Changing Place after seeing the need and the Great Yorkshire showground is in the final stages of building theirs.
“I hope that other attractions and facilities in North Yorkshire will follow their the lead and make North Yorkshire a place welcoming and accessible to those severely disabled visitors who need these facilities.
“Thank you to Rishi and his team for their positive engagement in this process and for taking time to meet me in Parliament and coming to the Dales School to meet other families and children.”
The announcements follow a recent £2 million investment by the Department for Transport to increase Changing Places facilities in motorway service stations.
The government, with contributions from the devolved administrations, has also provided £70,000 for an online map of the UK that helps carers and disabled people find Changing Places toilets.
Catherine Woodhead, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, which co-chairs the Changing Places Consortium, said: “We are delighted that the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are committed to making Changing Places toilets more widely available.
“Having access to Changing Places toilets increases independence and improves quality of life, and by investing in facilities we can tackle the exclusion many disabled people face on a daily basis.
“We, along with our wonderful campaigners, have long pushed for changes to legislation to make Changing Places toilets mandatory in new large public buildings and it’s fantastic that we are now one step closer to that reality.
“We look forward to working with the government and our campaigners to ensure that Changing Places toilets are available to everyone who needs them.”
The government intends to consult during 2019.