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After bowel cancer, it is not unusual to notice that your toilet habits aren’t what they used to be, particularly so if you’ve had ostomy surgery as part of your treatment. This can make going out to public places more stressful, but fortunately there are options available if you need to access amenities with more space, privacy and on-hand washing facilities – fast.


You’ll have noticed ‘Accessible or Disabled Toilets’ in most public places, but you’ll often find them locked unless you have a special key. The National Key Scheme (NKS) was developed to prevent accessible toilets from being damaged and misused. The keys used to unlock these public facilities are commonly referred to as RADAR keys (which stands for Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation). These keys can be used by people who need additional space and access to running water alongside a toilet. Toilets fitted with NKS locks can be found in shopping centres, pubs, cafés, department stores, bus and train stations and many other locations in most parts of the country.

Billy has a urostomy due to bowel cancer and recalls a time he was grateful for his RADAR key:


On a trip to Crieff I arrived in the town centre after a long drive to find that the toilets didn’t open for another half an hour. Feeling that my urostomy bag would not last that long to be emptied, I noticed that the accessible toilet had a Radar key system. I always carry a Radar Key in my spare pouch pocket. I was relieved to find the door opened when I used the key and found that the toilet inside was clean and well laid out, (had I needed to change a bag there was ample space).”


One of the advantages of accessible toilets for men with ostomies is the availability of a sanitary bin to dispose of used products. But they are helpful for relieving anxiety for women too. Angela from Eastbourne said All the times I have used my key have been because the queues have been long at the normal toilets and it meant I did not have to worry about having a leak.”


Sometimes it’s not possible to use an accessible toilet, but any toilet will do and when you need one in a hurry! In these circumstances, it can be helpful to show your ‘Can’t Wait card’. Showing the card communicates that you have a medical condition and would appreciate access to a toilet without undue delay. It’s important to note that the cards don’t guarantee access to all toilets and there may be instances where it’s not possible to use facilities for reasons related to security or health and safety (in the instance of staff toilets for example). However, when used with a smile and a polite request you may find they open doors and help avoid unnecessary distress.


For those travelling by air, the Sunflower Lanyard scheme may prove useful. This scheme was rolled out across UK airports last year and indicates to airport staff that the wearer has additional, hidden, needs that should be considered to ensure a smooth experience through the airport. It is used by people with dementia, autism, hearing loss and ostomies, amongst other conditions, and enables travellers to discreetly identify themselves to staff to ensure tailored help and support can be offered throughout their journey.


Karen has an ileostomy and says “The lanyard gives me free fast track through security, as well as further alerting staff that I may be carrying medical supplies, and they are aware of a disability if I get stopped.  I just feel more in control.”