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How the lack of open public toilets impacts the ostomy community

I’ve seen quite a lot of posts recently about the lack of open public toilets due to COVID-19. I even got caught with a rapidly filling ostomy bag myself whilst in the queue for the supermarket! Fortunately for me, it stopped before becoming unmanageable, but I had to rush around the supermarket and home again with a pretty heavy addition on my abdomen. It was not a pleasant experience, and there was genuine panic!

The lack of public restrooms has impacted so many already, especially those of us with continence issues. I haven’t had to shield, which I am incredibly grateful for, but many of the chronic illness community has because of underlying health conditions and the treatment they need to manage those. The latest UK guidance update means that those who have been shielding will soon be allowed to roam, but, will they want to? It’s a very anxious time for so many, and the lack of public toilet facilities just adds to that anxiety.

A little input from the community

I have seen posts on social media from people asking those in their local area to let them know which toilets are open. Many don’t feel that they can go anywhere without knowing they will have access to facilities, and exactly where they are.

Some have gone out and ended up in embarrassing situations, and others daren’t even attempt to leave the house because of the fear of ending up in one! A few people have mentioned that they have requested access to staff toilets, but have been declined due to infection control.

Many of the people that have been shielding since March are desperate to leave the confines of their house but don’t feel they will actually venture out until public toilets are open.

Some people have talked about going out completely prepared – tissues, wipes, disposal bags etc. if they need to do an emergency ostomy bag empty, but most don’t feel comfortable because they don’t KNOW they will even be able to find a private space to comfortably do that.

We’re so used to planning routes based on the availability of toilets, so not having that feels like we’ve been left without a safety net.

Some people in the community even commented that they’d be happy to be in charge of sanitising the facilities, before and after use (and they probably will anyway even if they don’t HAVE to).

Published guidance

I was pleased to see that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, published guidance on June 28th for local councils on opening public toilets.

This guidance included the following statements:

“Closed toilets may also impact disproportionately on certain groups who for health reasons rely on access to public toilets to be able to leave their homes. They can also make life difficult for young families and people who work outside.”

“Public authorities should also consider the equality implications of those with particular health needs who need to use the toilet more often.”

They included advice on measures that can be taken to open toilets in a safe way that was included in COVID-19 guidance published by the Government, and included it in the letter.

So, here’s hoping toilets will be widely accessible really soon!

Not all bad.

It’s a sorry state of affairs, but I didn’t want to leave on a negative note! A friend of mine posted a photograph recently and shared that she had been a walk in the countryside and had emptied her ostomy bag into disposal bags in the car. The handbrake doubled up as a toilet roll holder!


Sahara was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at the age of 19, Picture of author - Saharaafter just two weeks of being incredibly unwell. One week later, she had emergency surgery to remove her colon and rectum, and had her first ileostomy. A turbulent journey followed; a multitude of treatments, complications, seven surgeries, a failed J-Pouch, and three ileostomies later, she is living with a permanent stoma and is a pro-active IBD and ostomy advocate. 

Sahara joined the online IBD and ostomy community in 2014, and it very quickly became apparent to her that whilst awareness is important, even more important than that is providing support to others as they navigate the stormy waters of life with IBD, or an ostomy.

She runs #IBDSuperHeroes fundraising and awareness campaign, and the Facebook support group. She is a blogger for InflammatortyBowelDisease.net and an IBD Patient Consultant for merakoi – bridging the gap between patients and healthcare. She gets involved with research whenever she can, and is a volunteer for Cure Crohn’s Colitis, where she donates her time and expertise in social media marketing and content creation.