IT was the most controversial decision South Central Strategic Health Authority ever made.
But the organisation that unanimously voted to add fluoride to the tap water of thousands of Hampshire homes has not lasted long enough to see it become reality.
As of Monday, it will no longer exist. But although fluoridation has still not arrived in and around Southampton more than four years after it was given the goahead, the axing of the body that approved it as part of the NHS shake-up does not mean the scheme is dead in the water.
The SHA has faced lengthy delays in implementing the policy it has always insisted is the best way to improve poor children’s dental health in Southampton.
A High Court legal challenge saw fluoridation put on hold for 18 months, and agreeing details with Southern Water has also taken much longer than originally expected.
The SHA said it expects fluoridation to be up and running in parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams in 2014.
Because permission has been granted – despite the councils who now inherit responsibility for starting or ending public health measures like fluoride opposing the scheme – it is classed as “existing” and work on it will continue after the SHA is gone.
Responsibility for overseeing the project’s running will fall to the new body Public Health England (PHE).
Anti-fluoride campaigners hope the new organisation will have no appetite for pushing through an unpopular expensive scheme against the wishes of local authorities it will have to work with on other measures.
Although local authorities are being given the power to scrap fluoridation, Southampton City Council leader Richard Williams said it couldn’t afford the public consultation needed before making such a decision.
But he also believes PHE is unlikely to make fluoridation a priority, although he promised the authority would look at how to act if it does try to implement it. He said: “Just because an agreement is there, they won’t want to do it because it’s not a popular scheme, so therefore is it something a new body is going to want to do and put people’s backs up?”
So the fallout from the SHA’s most divisive decision seems likely to rumble on long after it is gone.
If, or when, Hampshire people will begin drinking fluoridated tap water remains anyone’s guess.