The government has proposed a law change to give the Director-General of Health control of water fluoridation.
It is picking up the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill which was first introduced by the previous National government in 2016.
The bill as it stands proposes decision-making on fluoridation be shifted from local authorities to District Health Boards.
The government will however be introducing a Supplementary Order Paper that changes the bill and gives responsibility for decision making to the Director-General of Health.
Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall expects the bill to pass by the end of the year.
It will simplify decision making and ensure there is a consistent nationwide approach, Verrall said.
“Right now only around 2.3 million New Zealanders have access to fluoridated drinking water. Community water fluoridation is a proven public health measure that will make a big difference to children’s wellbeing.
“The current level of fluoride found naturally in our water supplies is not enough to prevent tooth decay,” Verrall said.
Local councils will remain responsible for the capital and operational costs of fluoridation but the government will provide support if needed.
The National Party is concerned local voices will be lost when the Director-General of Health is handed responsibility for water fluoridation.
The bill as it stands proposes decision-making on fluoridation shift from local authorities to District Health Boards. National health spokesperson Shane Reti says the party prefers the bill doesn’t change.
“It’s always been one of those sensitive issues, fluoride, and I think great care needs to be taken to make sure that you absolutely have the buy-in and general support of that region.
“This potentially would remove that and it would go to central government who would just wash over the wishes of the region, that’s our concern,” Reti said.
National’s caucus is yet to decide if it will support the legislation, Reti says.
A former mayor who fought for six years to get the water in his region fluoridated says it is logical to take the power away from local authorities.
Ross Dunlop, who was mayor of South Taranaki for 12 years, spent half of that time trying to fluoridate water supplies in P?tea and Waverley.
A decision like that should not be left to local authorities, he says.
“Councils don’t make decisions about other health matters. They make decisions about roading and water and all that sort of stuff … they don’t actually make decisions about whether people should have hip replacements,” Dunlop said.
Canterbury’s top dentist says leaving the decision around fluoridating drinking water to councils is never going to work.
Canterbury has the largest population in the country without fluoride.
Community dental service head Martin Lee says he has been fighting for 20 years to get fluoride into the water.
“The biggest obstacle has been the decision making being left up to local authorities. What’s happened is it’s turned into a political hot potato that very few local body politicians have ever wanted to grasp hold of,” Lee says.
Children in his region have 25 percent more dental problems than those in areas using fluoride, Lee says.