HEALTH bosses have been accused of “sheer arrogance” for insisting that they will press ahead with plans to fluoridate Hampshire’s water supplies – despite powers being handed to local politicians.
The Government has confirmed that elected councils will decide on fluoridation once strategic health authorities are axed in 2012, in a move it hopes will make the process more democratically accountable.
But last night, South Central Strategic Health Authority said that it remains committed to moving ahead with the scheme affecting nearly 200,000 homes in and around Southampton.
A legal challenge to the plans for two-thirds of the city, as well as parts of Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams, is due to be heard in the High Court next month, which the SHA has set aside £400,000 to defend.
A victory for campaigners could instantly halt the scheme, which was approved unanimously by SHA board members in Febraury 2009 despite widespread public opposition.
More than 10,000 people took part in a public consultation, with 72 per cent of respondents from the affected area saying that they didn’t want fluoride in their water.
But if the judge finds in favour of the health authority, it could be free to resume work on adding the chemical to water supplies.
And despite it only having little over a year left before being scrapped, that is what the SHA would do.
A spokesman said: “As previously stated, further to an economic review of the business case the decision stands and the SHA intends to fluoridate the water in the area concerned, unless the court orders otherwise.”
New Forest East MP Julian Lewis told the Daily Echo that it would be “outrageously undemocratic” for the SHA to “impose fluoridation in its dying days”.
He said: “It’s a pretty rumshow that they’re still going ahead spending a lot of public money on two days in court. If they lose then fluoridation would not happen, and if they win then it would be wholly inappropriate for them to impose it, knowing that their powers are about to be transferred to bodies who are likely to take a different course.
“It would be sheer arrogance if they are bent on an ideological mission to ride roughshod over public opinion in a desperate last-minute bid to leave this as their legacy, when they have no mandate to do so.”
Confirming the changes, Tory Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said that unlike SHAs, councils are accountable to voters, but they would still have to consult residents, although their views would not be binding.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
THE future of fluoridation in Hampshire rests in the hands of a High Court judge, who will next month consider whether health bosses should have paid more attention to public opinion.
South Central SHA’s board voted unanimously to approve fluoridating Southampton’s water supplies, but the scheme has been on hold since the judicial review bid was lodged four months later.
The judge will look at whether the SHA examined all available evidence fully, as well as whether it should have listened to residents’ views.
All MPs in the area have either said that they do not agree with fluoridation, or called on the SHA to put its plans on hold because of public opposition.
Hampshire, Eastleigh, Fareham, New Forest and Test Valley councils all passed motions disagreeing with adding the chemical to tap water supplies.
Southampton City Council voted in favour of the plans, but councillors have since called for a binding referendum to be held before fluoride could be added to the water.