A senior MP has held talks with health ministers amid growing fears that a looming shake-up will make it harder to add fluoride to tap water in more parts of England.
Sir Paul Beresford, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for dentistry, said he had put a ‘robust’ case that the changes will set back the campaign, despite the promise of huge benefits for children’s teeth.
The concern flows from the flagship Health and Social Care Bill, which will axe the ten strategic health authorities (SHAs) next year, as the government wages war on NHS ‘bureaucracy’.
Responsibility for public health matters – including fluoridation – will then pass to local authorities, which are expected to be far more reluctant to act.
In the recent example of attempts to fluoridate in the Southampton area, most councils in Hampshire came out against adding the chemical to tap water supplies.
Sir Paul said: ‘I had a meeting at the department of health because there are real concerns that the changes in the Bill will fluoridation less likely in the future.
‘I would like ministers to listen to those concerns and think again about making local councils responsible before the legislation returns to the Commons.’
That return is just weeks away, because the Health Bill is – controversially – due to be pushed through the Commons in just two days, on September 6 and 7.
The legislation was expected to face months of delay – after David Cameron was forced to set up a review group and promise ‘significant changes’, amid a fierce public backlash.
But, despite the almost unprecedented step of returning the Bill to its committee stage, scores of amendments were debated in the days before the start of the summer recess – clearing the way for the Bill’s final Commons stages next month.
Ministers have accepted that the new role for local councils offers ‘hope’ to opponents of fluoridation, even while extolling the benefits of the chemical.
In May, health minister Anne Milton told MPs that fluoridation led to a 15% increase in the proportion of children without tooth decay, ‘on the best available evidence’.
Meanwhile, Southampton is to get its water supply fluoridated – despite the local protests – after a High Court judge rejected a final appeal against the decision not to allow a judicial review.
It means South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) can move ahead with the scheme, which will affect nearly 200,000 people in parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams.
Other health authorities had put their own fluoridation schemes on hold, pending the outcome of the Hampshire case.