fter last autumn’s public consultation on the local Primary Care Trust’s request to fluoridate areas of Southampton and adjoining Hampshire, South Central Strategic Health Authority agreed on 26th February 2009 to fluoridate. This was against the wishes of 72% of those affected who responded to the consultation, and 38% of the 70% who gave an opinion in a telephone survey.
The Water Act 2003 and subsequent Regulations changed the previous system where water companies could veto fluoridation schemes. When Tessa Jowell was a Minister at the time when Government were thinking of making this change, she assured the All-Party Group that it would be the elected local councils who would decide whether or not to fluoridate. We therefore felt let down when the Water Bill gave this function to SHAs, and we fought this in both Houses. We argued that local authorities were best placed democratically to decide on behalf of their electorates, who would have to bear the consequences of fluoridated water; and we knew that the fluoridation culture in public health circles would make it practically certain which way SHAs would decide.
We were given reassurances during the passage of the Bill, and on the face of it there were many hurdles which an SHA would have to negotiate before it could give the go-ahead to a water company. A key provision is that it must:
“[have] regard to the extent of support for the proposal and the cogency of the arguments”, before being “satisfied that the health arguments in favour.. outweigh all arguments against..”
To remove doubts, Lord Warner said from the despatch box during the passage of the Regulations in 2005:
“Let me dispel any suggestion, however, that we have diluted our commitment that fluoridation schemes would only be introduced where the local population were in favour”. *
What price Government commitments, then? It seems that when fluoridators mean business, promises go out of the window together with any pretence to good science.
It is our hope that someone affected by the Southampton decision will be able to mount a legal challenge, because otherwise the route is now open for every SHA in the country to decide that it knows better than the public, and to ignore any scientific evidence it finds inconvenient. All reasonable safeguards have now gone.
Meanwhile we hope to post under Reports on this website comments on some of the evidence put before the SHA in February. Scientific critiques of the Chief Dental Officer’s important background letter of February 2008 to SHAs and PCTs, in which he virtually urges them to fluoridate, and of the SHA’s own one-sided consultation document, can already be seen there.
* Readers may be entertained by an example of how Government (i.e. Department of Health) handles difficult questions. A recent Written Answer on this from Lords Hansard is given below. It doesn’t touch the question at any point.