Doctors will challenge up to 50 Queensland councils to declare their support for fluoridation of drinking water ahead of this month’s local government elections, as the state battles the worst child tooth decay in the nation.
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dilip Dhupelia will write to councils that do not have fluoride in their water supply, and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, in a bid to force the public health issue on to the agenda. “This is a serious health problem, and the solution — fluoride — is a no-brainer,” Dr Dhupelia said.
“We are utilising millions of dollars of hospital beds for these children who are suffering preventable problems.”
Dr Dhupelia said the AMAQ would ask councils for their position on fluoridation and publish the results before the March 28 elections.
Fluoride has long been a hotly contested issue in Queensland, while elsewhere in Australia fluoride has been added to drinking water for more than 70 years.
Labor premier Anna Bligh introduced mandatory fluoridation in 2008. Before that, just 4 per cent of Queenslanders had access to fluoridated water.
Liberal National Party premier Campbell Newman reversed the decision in 2012 — when 87 per cent of Queenslanders had access — giving councils the power to decide.
Now 72 per cent of Queenslanders have access, after some councils removed fluoride equipment or switched it off.
Councils in Cairns and Rockhampton each received nearly $2m for fluoridation equipment, but turned off supply in 2013.
Twenty-two councils, including all in southeast Queensland, have at least one drinking water supply that is fluoridated.
About 50 councils have no drinking water supplies that are fluoridated. For some councils, state funding was provided to install fluoride, but it was never commissioned. Mount Isa received nearly $800,000 and more than $90,000 went to Charters Towers.
Local Government Association of Queensland acting chief executive Glen Beckett said the state government should provide more funding.
“The LGAQ’s position is that the state government should fully fund councils for both the capital and recurrent costs of fluoridation as oral health is a state responsibility,” Mr Beckett said.
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles has resisted, despite being “on the record in support of fluoride in water supplies”.
“I want to see the few councils not using fluoride to add it to their water supplies,” Mr Miles said. “But it is more effective for medical professionals to talk to councils about the health of their communities.
“Some councils still have legacy infrastructure that was paid for by the previous Labor government but they refuse to use it.
“Other councils have stopped building infrastructure when the legislation changed in 2012, or have since removed fluoride infrastructure.”
Nearly half of Queensland’s five and six-year-olds have tooth decay, with the state’s figures 24 per cent higher than children elsewhere in Australia.