UK Government plans for fluoridation imminent

The Government is planning to release a White Paper on Public Health early this autumn which is likely to result in more widespread fluoridation of water supplies.

Fluoridation is widely accepted as a means of reducing the frequency of tooth decay. In a report in the latest Journal of Community Dental Health 16 (50-56), tooth decay in children is shown to be up to six times more common in economically deprived areas without a fluoridated water supply.

The fluoridation issue has been the focus of much attention in Parliament over the past year.

Minister for Public Health Tessa Jowell told the Commons: “The Water (Fluoridation) Act 1985, Section 87(1) has not worked. Since 1985, 55 health authorities in England – nearly half taking into account the mergers of the past 12 years – have requested water companies to introduce water fluoridation.

“None of those requests has been accepted. As a result, there have been no new water fluoridation agreements since 1985. The reason is simply that none of the water companies has exercised its discretion to agree to a health authority’s request.

“To sum up, the present situation is a mess. The public health benefits of fluoridation are clear. The overwhelming evidence is that fluoridation of water is safe and effective.”

She explained why no water companies have taken up repeated requests for fluoridation: “Indemnities are clearly a stumbling block in the operation of existing legislation. Water companies are concerned about any liabilities that they may incur from fluoridation.

“I am aware that some water companies, including Severn Trent, have sought changes to the statutory indemnities that we are able to offer when they implement fluoridation schemes.” She concluded: “Our public health White Paper will set out a clear policy framework – and we will need to consider any changes to indemnities in that context.”

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Health Baroness Hayman recently clarified another important point: “We confirm that fluoridated water has not been classified as a medicinal product by the United Kingdom’s competent authority. Water intended for human consumption falls within the definition of food and is thus regulated partly under the Food Safety Act 1990 and partly under water legislation.”

Under this position, fluoridation could not be regarded as the administration of medicine without consent.

The Baroness added: “The noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey, included these opinions in a judgement in which he found the fluoridation water at 1mg/l to be a safe and effective means of reducing dental decay.”

However, there are a number of opponents to universal, enforced fluoridation of supplies on the grounds of civil liberty infringement – including the Home Secretary Jack Straw.

The White Paper is therefore unlikely to contain plans for enforced fluoridation and unless this situation changes, may therefore be limited to making the fluoridation request procedure more acceptable to water companies.

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