PHA: Fluoridation battle not over

  • 14/04/2016
PHA: Fluoridation battle not over

The battle over water fluoridation isn't going to end because responsibility for decision-making is being shifted from councils to district health boards, the Public Health Association says.

The association supports fluoridation and backs the shift, but says the legislation the Government is drafting will have to be very clear about DHBs' responsibility.

"Local councils have been under considerable pressure from vocal minority groups opposed to fluoridation, and that pressure will now fall on DHBs," said PHA chief executive Warren Lindberg.

"The PHA urges the Ministry of Health to support the change with information about community water fluoridation to ensure voters and candidates understand the reasons for the decision and the evidence for its health benefits."

The Government announced the change yesterday and it was immediately welcomed by councils who've long wanted fluoride decisions taken out of their hands.

"The decision to fluoridate is a health decision," Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said.

"Assessing claims about the value of fluoride and its potential harm falls outside the expertise and experience of local authorities."

Councils have in the past been taken to court over their stances on fluoridation and earlier this year the Whakatane District Council decided to remove fluoride from the water supply before voting less than two weeks later to put it back in.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says DHBs are better placed to make the call.

"The sort of nonsense we've had of late where councils have chopped and changed their views hasn't been particularly helpful," he told reporters.

"We think this is a chance to get a health perspective on making the decision about fluoridation."

Hastings was the first place to add fluoride to its water supply back in 1954.

Research has shown adding fluoride to water supplies is one way to help reduce tooth decay.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said he hopes shifting the decision to DHBs will mean more New Zealanders will have access to fluoridated water.

It's estimated about 1.4 million people are living in areas where the water supply isn't fluoridated.

Dr Coleman said giving DHBs the power to decide, rather than having the government make a blanket direction, ensures local communities continue to have a say.

Labour's health spokeswoman Annette King is backing the decision.

"It is a health issue, it wasn't ever an issue for local government," she said.

However, she is worried DHBs could face pressure from their communities in the same way councils have.

"What I would hope the minister will now do is have the Ministry of Health set the water standard for fluoridation which the DHBs would then implement."