CONTROVERSIAL plans to introduce fluoride into the public water supply in Scotland are set to be abandoned, it emerged today.
The Scottish Executive is understood to have axed the proposal – which won support from the medical profession- in favour of better targeted dental services.
The move is thought to have been sparked by splits among MSPs within the Liberal Democrat and Labour groups at Holyrood over the issue.
Ministers feared a row over the fluoride provision and the updating of laws on the retention and provision of organs risked delaying the passage of a new health bill which includes banning smoking in enclosed public spaces.
It is believed the Executive was also concerned about the implications of allowing individual local authorities to introduce the chemical into water supplies.
The British Dental Association had backed the plans in the battle to improve Scotland’s dental health record.
But critics argued the fluoride plans were an infringement of freedom and were also unsafe.
Scotland has one of the worst dental health records in the UK, with 55 per cent of children having dental disease by the age of five.
Research shows children at the ages of five and six in places such as Moray, where the water supply has large amounts of fluoride occurring naturally, and Newcastle and Birmingham, where fluoride is deliberately added, have over 90 per cent fewer decayed teeth than those living in non-fluoridated areas.
A source within the Executive reportedly confirmed today that fluoride measures had been shelved “for the foreseeable future”.
Health minister Andy Kerr is expected to unveil new measures to lift Scotland’s poor dental health record following an announcement in the coming weeks that the fluoride plans have been dropped.
These are likely to include “more proactive dentistry for young children, more targeted in deprived communities where tooth decay was worse”.
A spokesman for the British Dental Association, which led a campaign for water fluoridation in England and Wales, said: “If the Scottish Executive chooses to take this route, it is clearly a very disappointing decision.
“Dental health in Scotland is amongst the worst in the UK and targeted water fluoridation could make a massive impact on that record.”
Today, independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald, said the plans for a smoking ban could have been jeopardised if the Executive had pressed ahead with the fluoride proposal.
“The anti-smoking plans could have been at risk with a pro-fluoride clause. I am not for fluoridation. I think there are so many other ways to administer fluoride that it should not be put in the public water supply.”
Brian Donohoe, Labour MP for Cunninghame South, who spearheaded a rebellion on fluoridation at Westminster, said: “There has been a lot of controversy around the issue of water fluoridation that has never been explained as it should be. The major argument I have is that nothing should be added to our public water supply for medical reasons without the public having the chance to decide if it is right for them.”
Former deputy health minister Tom McCabe, who was put in charge of the issue, was eager to press ahead with fluoridation, seen by supporters as the best way of tackling the problem of rotten teeth.
But many Lib Dems viewed it as “mass medication” and an infringement of civil liberties. And official party policy is against adding fluoride to the water supply.
A public consultation on the issue closed almost two years ago, following a big response.
About 1700 letters and e-mails were received, along with more than 1000 pre-printed campaign postcards against the move and several petitions with more than 6500 names. A working group was established involving Labour and Lib Dem MSPs to try to resolve the impasse between them and Mr McCabe had suggested a compromise involving individual health boards holding referendums.
Unless most of the Lib Dems could be won over, the Labour-led Executive would have risked defeat in any vote.
Scottish Nationalists, Conservatives, Greens and Scottish Socialists have all spoken out against putting fluoride in the water.
Lothians Green MSP Robin Harper has said there were sufficient grounds for concern about the effects of fluoride on health that people should have a choice whether to consume fluoride.
Greater Glasgow NHS board announced in September it was to hold its own public consultation on fluoridation with a decision due next month.