National’s health spokesman Dr Shane Reti says the Government’s move to take control of fluoridation away from councils and give it to Ashley Bloomfield is an “over-reach”.
Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall announced her intention to centralise the often controversial practice on Thursday.
Fluoride is a chemical added to more than half of New Zealand’s drinking water in minuscule amounts to promote healthy teeth.
A 2009 study found that children in areas with fluoridated drinking water had 40 per cent less tooth decay than children living in areas without, on average. However, some people find the practice abominable, arguing that people should have the right to choose what medicines they take.
Verrall is making the change by picking up a dormant bill from the last National government that would give the power to DHBs, rather than councils, who currently have it. She is amending it so the power goes directly to Bloomfield, as the director general of health.
Reti cautioned that his party had not come to formal caucus decision on the bill, but he had some immediate concern.
“I am expressing some concerns with the removal of local decision-making. This has always been one of those sensitive issues that we have taken particular care around,” Reti said.
“At first blush it looks like an over-reach by Government with quite a dramatic change.”
National’s support will not be needed for the law change, but Verrall said she was keen to get support across the House for the bill.
Reti said he supported the science behind fluoridation absolutely, but was worried that the centralisation of power would stir up more resentment by those who are against fluoridation.
“I don’t think the needs wants and aspirations of local people are trumped by the science of fluoridation,” Reti said.
Many people have lobbied councils – sometimes successfully – against fluoridating water.
NZ First blocked the fluoridation bill from being progressed during the last term.
Verrall said it was important to have a consistent standard for fluoridation across the country.
“Topping up fluoride levels allows the well-established health benefits to reach all New Zealanders, especially our children, M?ori and Pacific populations and people in our poorer communities,” Verrall said.
The NZ Dental Association have welcomed the announcement as “extremely good news”.\
Spokesman Dr Rob Beaglehole said there was no good reason for the 20 different DHBs to have 20 different standards – let alone councils.
“It’s great to see the Government take the lead on this issue, this will dramatically reduce the amount of pain and suffering that New Zealand children will experience because of tooth decay,” Beaglehole said.
“The number one reason children are admitted to hospital in New Zealand is to have their teeth taken out under general anaesthetic.”
He pointed to a statement by the American Centers for Disease Control that water fluoridation was one of the top 10 best health interventions of the entire 20th century.