CONTROVERSIAL plans to add fluoride to Hampshire water have been delayed yet again – by so long that the health body that approved the scheme might not exist by the time it happens.
A date has finally been set for the first part of a High Court legal bid to stop fluoridation in and around Southampton, but crowded courts mean a full judicial review into the scheme might not be heard this year.
And with mounting speculation the new Government wants to axe all strategic health authorities by April 2012, it’s unlikely the health chiefs who backed fluoridation will still be in charge by the time the chemical is added to water supplies.
The news was welcomed by anti-fluoride campaigners who are hopeful that this threat of abolition, along with the change of government, will see the whole scheme axed.
Stephen Peckham, chairman of Hampshire Against Fluoridation, said he is encouraged by the news, particularly as those now in office are not keen to force fluoridation without proper public consultation.
Secretary of State for Health – told the Daily Echo that the public consultation carried out by the Strategic Health Authority (SHA) was “not real”, while new Prime Minister David Cameron voted against the proposals in the last government vote.
All fluoride schemes across the country are on hold while the courts examine the decision by South Central SHA last February to add fluoride to the water in 200,000 homes.
Southampton resident Geraldine Milner is arguing the authority should have listened to the views of residents before giving the scheme the go-ahead, after 72 per cent of 10,000 people consulted said they were against the idea.
Her solicitors also wanted judges to examine whether the SHA, which insists it followed the legislation and has set aside £400,000 to fight the legal challenge, ignored evidence.
The judge had said the process was “unimpeachable”, but allowed Sean Humber from Leigh Day & Co to appeal against the decision to reject that part of the application.
That petition will now be heard in November – more than a year later than was initially expected.
And the full judicial review hearing, which will examine what the Labour Government meant when it said health bosses should listen to public opinion, cannot be given a hearing date until the appeal is decided.
“I think it’s fair to say this has taken a surprisingly long time, but I’m afraid that’s just the way the legal system works. The full hearing can’t be listed until we’ve had that first hearing, because they don’t know what they’re listing,” said Mr Humber, who believes it could be as late as next spring.
Fluoridation in Hampshire has been on hold since last June, when talks about implementing the scheme between the SHA and Southern Water, were suspended.
Even if the judicial review gives it the green light, there is little chance the scheme could be up and running before summer 2012.
The SHA might not even exist by then as the Government looks to axe expensive quangos as part of £6billion budget cuts.
It has been reported that Mr Lansley has already told SHA bosses they will be abolished by April 2012 and replaced by an NHS commissioning board.
The SHA has been so concerned about the delays in hearing the judicial review it asked the High Court to hurry it through the system to “end uncertainty”.
However an offer to hold both hearings on the same day was rejected by the SHA who said: “It does not seem to be an appropriate use of public funds to prepare the case in full where there is real doubt as to whether permission will be granted.”