A HEALTH watchdog is taking legal advice before moving to tackle complaints over the decision to fluoridate the tap water in tens of thousands of Hampshire homes.

Protests have been lodged over South Central Strategic Health Authority’s public consultation on the scheme. The Parliamentary and Health Service ombudsman has told MPs who have complained it is taking longer than usual to decide whether to investigate because the issue is complex.

The body says it has received several complaints on similar lines, including those lodged by New Forest East MP Julian Lewis and Eastleigh’s Chris Huhne, all of which need to be thoroughly assessed.

An official also revealed that legal advice has been taken, and time is needed to consider the implications of that guidance.

Dr Lewis complained about the SHA’s 14-week consultation last year, because he believed it was a “done deal”. He said the authority’s consultation document – designed to inform residents of the facts about the scheme and the arguments surrounding it was “hopelessly biased”.

He said he is not surprised the ombudsman is “weighing each move carefully”.

“They must be aware that if the SHA succeeds in flouting public opinion by means of a bogus consultation here, it would be a blueprint for equally arrogant behaviour by other SHAs all over the country,” said Dr Lewis.

“A great deal turns on the outcome of our complaint.”

Mr Huhne welcomed the development.

“This is good news for local campaigners as it shows that the ombudsman is taking seriously the prospect of investigating local complaints,” he said.

An SHA spokesman said: “The Board of South Central Strategic Health Authority is confident that the decision that has been made was carried out in accordance with the relevant legislation and in the best interests of the health of local people.

“Local people should be reassured that mtjor professional medical organisations such as the British Dental Association, British Medical Association and World Health Organisatior all fully endorse water fluoridation as a safe and effective way to improve dental health.”

The SHA insists no decision was made until its board met in February to debate the issue. It unanimously backed fluoridation.

During the consultation, more than 10,000 responses were received. Of those from people living in the affected area, 72 per cent were opposed to fluoridation. A separate phone poll canvassing opinion from residents not stirred to actively join’the debate, found 38 per cent of the 2,000 people quizzed were against fluoride, while 32 per cent were in favour.

The plans, proposed by city health chiefs to tackle poor dental health in kids, will affect nearly 200,000 homes in parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams.