MINISTERS could be forced to extend their public consultation on fluoridation in Scotland’s water supply after several bodies claimed that not enough time had been allowed for all responses to be received.
The Herald has learned that a decision on extending the consultation period will be taken early in the new year.
The consultation document Towards Better Oral Health In Children, drawn up by the Scottish Executive in a bid to improve the nation’s dental health, has triggered one of the biggest postbags for such an exercise.
More than 1000 submissions have so far been made on the paper which looks at ways of tackling children’s oral health, including the issue of fluoridation, which one opponent has described as “mass-medication without choice.”
Only the recent consultation exercise on land reform proposals engendered a bigger public response.
The deadline for submissions on the fluoridation consultation had been set for yesterday. While latecomers’ views were likely to be accepted for a short time beyond that, a ministerial decision to extend the consultation period would make matters official.
A number of organisations and individuals are concerned that the consultation of three months had been too short.
Extra staff are understood to have been brought in to deal with the influx of submissions.
An executive spokeswoman said: “Ministers have received some representations about the length of the consultation period. Some groups didn’t think it was long enough. We are currently considering these representations and will make an early announcement in the new year.”
The fluoridation question is likely to have overshadowed any other issue raised in the consultation paper launched by Mary Mulligan, the deputy health minister.
That has led Unison Scotland to call for a separate consultation exercise on it.
Matt Smith, Scottish secretary of the union, said it was the section of the consultation paper that was most likely to lead to a strong debate on fluoridation.
The consultation paper sought suggestions on further measures on healthy eating and health education, how dental services and preventative treatments could be improved, and alternative ways of using fluoride.
Ms Mulligan insisted at its launch that the executive remained neutral on the question of water fluoridation.
The executive maintained the beneficial effects of fluoride in preventing dental decay had been apparent for decades.
It added that the balance of evidence suggested that fluoride, where properly used, offered a safe and effective route to better oral health.
The document highlighted statistics showing that, in Scotland, more than 60% of children from areas of severe deprivation had dental disease by the age of three and that over a quarter of a million teeth were extracted from children annually.