PUBLIC support for adding fluoride to the drinking water of 8,000 people in Totton would be “vital” under a Conservative government, according to the party’s shadow health minister.
The high-profile commitment — made as the next general election gets closer was extracted by fellow Tory New Forest East MP Julian Lewis who wrote asking for the party to make clear its position.
Southampton Primary Care Trust’s scheme will affect 190,000 people in and around the city if it goes ahead as planned next year after it was approved in February by the South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) to combat child tooth decay.
Opponents said their concerns about fluoride’s side-effects were ignored, despite gathering a 15,000-name petition objecting and a Mori poll by the SHA showing 38% opposed against 32% in support.
Shadow health minister Mike Penning wrote to Dr Lewis: “I believe that public consent is vital to the implementation of any compulsory fluoridation scheme. “Communities should have to give their approval for any proposal before it is permitted to go ahead, and that fluoridation should not be enforced against the will of the population.”
He said there were “serious questions” about the SHA’s consultation, particularly the way it handled views opposing the plans, and he promised a Tory government would review the process to involve the public more.
Dr Lewis said: “I am naturally delighted at this excellent response which I take to mean that if there is a change of government fluoridation will not be imposed in our area without our consent.
“This is, of course, what Gordon Brown promised on his visit to Southampton — but, in Mike Pennine’s case, we can be sure the promise will be kept.”
The SHA’s decision is also being fought in the courts, and a judicial review launched by Southampton resident Geraldine Milner to scrutinise its legality is set to have its next hearing on October 23rd.
Her lawyers, Leigh Day and Co, argued fluoridation should not have been approved because it was at odds with pronouncements from members of the government that such schemes should only be allowed if a local majority was in favour.
She also said opponents’ arguments were not properly considered, but the judge hearing the case decided that only the legality of the decision would be investigated — which is the ruling to be challenged later this month.
Depending on the result, the judicial review could be heard as early as next year with a decision in the spring.