CIVIC chiefs in Hampshire have accused health bosses of ignoring them over the future of plans to add fluoride to the tap water of 200,000 people in the county.
Hampshire County Council leader Roy Perry claims the organisation behind the scheme – Public Health England (PHE) – has not replied to his questions since the beginning of the year.
Now he is demanding a final decision on the future of the controversial project, which was aimed at improving the poor dental health of children, so residents are not left in limbo.
It comes as a PHE report revealed that one in ten three-year-olds in Southampton has tooth decay.
The Daily Echo can also reveal that more than 400 children in Southampton are sent to hospital to have teeth pulled out every year as a result of tooth decay.
The saga over plans to introduce fluoride into the water of 200,000 residents’ households in parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Netley, Rownhams and Totton has rumbled on for more than a decade.
The Strategic Health Authority (SHA) for Central England – which proposed the plans – said the measure would improve dental health in the region, but it has been bitterly opposed by campaigners who have warned of potential health risks and say residents were not properly consulted about its introduction.
The SHA was scrapped last April and replaced by PHE, which announced that it would continue with the scheme.
But Southampton City Council and Hampshire County Council believe a failure to complete paperwork between the two health bodies – something the PHE has admitted – means the scheme does not even exist technically.
They also say they believe local authorities will have the final say on whether the scheme goes ahead – and the leaders of both councils have said they would not force it upon residents due to the level of opposition.
That was first announced last July, and it was revealed in January that it was likely that a court battle would decide the fate of the scheme.
Cllr Perry says the county council is proposing that a judge decide the fate of the scheme in private sessions in a bid to save taxpayers the cost of an expensive legal fight.
But, he says, PHE has not replied to numerous attempts to contact it about settling the dispute since January.
He said: “The council has been contacting PHE over several months now and we’re simply not getting a reply.
“Fundamentally we believe that if there wasn’t an agreed scheme for fluoridation back in April last year, then there is no scheme that PHE has that it can proceed with.
“PHE has neither confirmed nor rejected that but it simply doesn’t reply on the issue. “It is an organisation funded by the taxpayer that is not treating residents with due respect by not answering. All we want is a clear answer.”
He said he was prepared to take the matter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt if he continues to be ignored.
A spokesman for PHE said: “No decision has yet been taken and PHE is committed to working constructively with both local authorities.”
The renewal of the furore over fluoridation comes as PHE released a report on tooth decay levels among three-year-olds across the UK.
Throughout the country 12 per cent of youngsters surveyed had tooth decay – compared to 10.5 per cent in Southampton and 4.6 per cent in Hampshire, which was the lowest rate in the south-east.
PHE has said that fluoride can be used to effectively combat tooth decay in children, while the body has urged parents to reduce both the amount and the frequency of sugary foods and drinks given to their children.
In Southampton, city council health chief Cllr Dave Shields, pictured left, said that 414 youngsters aged 16 or younger had teeth removed at city hospitals last year due to tooth decay, at a cost of £231,000 to taxpayers.
He said: “Not only is this a traumatic experience for children so young, it is largely avoidable. I would urge parents to avoid giving their children too many sugary snacks and drinks which are a known cause of tooth decay.
“The best defence against decay is to ensure children brush their teeth twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste.
“Despite our oral health programmes, many children are missing out, which is why whole-population approaches are recommended for areas such as ours.
“Over the last 20 years about 10,000 Southampton children have had dental extractions under a general anaesthetic at great cost to the NHS.”
Cllr Perry will speak at a public meeting organised by Hampshire Against Fluoridation on Saturday, which will take place from 2-4pm in the lecture theatre at Southampton Solent University’s Conference Centre in Above Bar.