Water fluoridation in spotlight

Southampton's water fluoridation scheme will go ahead as planned – but a government consultation opens the door for fresh opposition when responsibility for schemes is taken over by councils in just seven months.

South Central Strategic Health Authority, along with all SHAs will be abolished under government's NHS reforms in April 2013, with control of fluoridation schemes passing to local authorities.

Southern Water, which will carry out the fluoridation, has said a feasibility study is ongoing. The scheme has already seen off a legal challenge and will proceed as planned.

However, it remains uncertain what will happen post-April 2013 when local councils have the power to consult on new schemes, or end existing ones.

It will be a decision for Southampton City Council, and if they wish to end the scheme they will have to abide by new legislation on how they must consult.

The Department of Health (DH) has now launched that consultation on who local authorities should involve when considering schemes.

It will mean ensuring local people's opinions on fluoridation are considered before decisions are made to adopt, change or end fluoridation programmes, it said.

Public health minister Anne Milton said: 'Decision making on public health issues should be made at a local level where they understand what is
needed and where the community's voice can best be heard.

'We want to hear as many views as possible about how this process should work when local authorities get their new powers next year – I encourage
everyone to take part.'

The consultation aims to avoid a repeat of the £350,000 legal bill run up during the Southampton battle.

The DH said that more clear guidelines on how consultations should be carried out would make judicial review claims by opponents of fluoridation
less likely.

Setting up a fluoridation scheme in Southampton had proved to be a 'time-consuming and costly process', running up a legal bill of £350,000, it said.

Ministers believe handing responsibility to councils will 'increase the democratic accountability' of the process.

South Central SHA insisted 'feasibility planning' would continue despite the uncertain future.

A spokesman for NHS South of England, which includes South Central SHA, said: 'The government consultation is about seeking the views by which
local authorities will carry out consultations and make decisions relating to fluoridation from 1 April 2013.

'The existing schemes that have been agreed in line with the current legal process is continuing, and the SHA continues to work with Southern Water
on the next level of the technical feasibility planning.'

The consultation has been sent to all organisations known to the DH and can be found on its website and is open until 27 November.

By parliamentary correspondent Anika Bourley

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