Have health chiefs ducked a decision to put fluoride into tap water until after the general election?
But the NHS shake-up, which axed SHAs, passed responsibility to Public Health England (PHE), which has said little on the controversy in the past 18 months.
Now Southampton’s council leader has said he believes PHE is deliberately stalling until after May’s election – to see if the political weather is more favourable.
Labour is believed to be much more supportive of fluoridation, while the Conservatives have faced a backlash from many of its own MPs.
But the fresh delay is a further blow for campaigners – including PHE itself – which believes fluoridation is vital to improving the health of children’s teeth.
The organisation recently calculated that as many as 45% fewer under-fives are admitted to hospital for tooth decay in areas where water is fluoridated, than in those where it is not.
Councillor Simon Letts, Southampton’s Labour leader, told the city’s newspaper: ‘My suspicion is that nothing will happen until after the general election next year, so they can ask whoever the health secretary is to introduce it.
‘I don’t think it’s acceptable, I think they should have come to a final decision by now whether to introduce it or not.’
Counsellor Letts has previously offered local voters the final say on fluoridation, adding: ‘I think PHE should bite the bullet and fund the referendum on that basis.
‘The current situation is unfair on residents, we need to get a result one way or another.’
A leading critic of adding fluoride, New Forest East Conservative MP Julian Lewis, echoed the criticism, from the opposite side of the argument, saying: ‘They are playing for time.
‘They are hoping that, with a general election, there might be another change – and I am sure that, if there is a change of Government, they will be arguing that the powers taken away from the SHA should be given to undemocratic quangos like themselves.’
The city council believes the scheme is effectively dead anyway, because the SHA failed to complete paperwork with Southern Water before the handover last year.
But PHE has denied this.
A spokesman said: ‘This “belief” is incorrect.
‘We hope to clarify next steps regarding this matter shortly.’