'FLUORIDE BATTLE CONTINUES AMID CHARGES OF "BIASED" CONSULTATION'

Lymington Times – 2 May 2009

Charges of bias against the consultation into adding fluoride to Totton’s water supply have been taken to the Health Ombudsman after they were dismissed by local health chiefs. There was never a 'cat in hell’s chance' that the public’s opinions would decide the outcome, said New Forest East MP Julian Lewis in a joint complaint with Totton councillor David Harrison.

Some 8,000 people in the town are due to have fluoride after the South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) approved Southampton Primary Care Trust’s proposals, which affect some areas outside the city because of the layout of the pipes. About 190,000 will be affected in total and despite opponents losing the battle, they have not given up and are planning legal action. Fluoridation could be further delayed if the charge of bias is upheld and a re-run consultation is ordered.

Answering Dr Lewis’s initial complaint to the SHA, its chairman, Dr Geoffrey Harris, insisted responses for and against were considered with an open mind but the consultation was not intended as a 'referendum'. It had presented a 'balanced debate', but he said there was a 'considerable body of scientific evidence' that fluoride was safe and effective and ‘little evidence’ it caused any harm other than some cases of fluorosis – mottled teeth.

But now, the Conservative MP and Liberal Democrat councillor have unusually joined forces to take their concerns further and ask the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to look into the row. Their complaints included: biased information handed out, Health Secretary Alan Johnson speaking in favour of fluoridation during the consultation, objections being ignored, and the Trust campaigning for its own plans.

They also claimed a promise by Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the fluoridation decision should be 'up to local people', had been broken because only one of the 12 SHA Board members was from the area affected. A Mori poll of 2,000 people commissioned by the SHA showed 32% supported fluoride against 38% opposed, but the complaint pointed out 27% were strongly opposed against 12% strongly in favour.

However, even if the Ombudsman decides to investigate the complaint, ultimately it cannot order the SHA to re-run the consultation. But its recommendations are usually followed and the Department for Health will see any report and it can demand a re-run.

The Chairman of Hampshire County Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Anna McNair Scott, has also accused the SHA of ignoring its objections to fluoridation, and those of other councils and the public. As reported in the 'A & T', the decision was the first in the country taken under new laws which gave the NHS the power to order water companies to add fluoride, where previously they could refuse.