3 Jul 2009

Lymington Times

THE prime minister has been challenged by a New Forest MP to explain his reported comments that it should be "local people" who decide if fluoride is added to their water.
The intervention by New Forest East MP Julian Lewis came days after the government rejected his call to review the NHS's decision to add the controversial chemical to Southampton's water supply — which includes some 8,000 residents in Totton.
A Mori poll of 2,000 people commissioned by the NHS showed 38% opposed fluoride against 32% in support, and campaigners feel they have been ignored — despite Gordon Brown being quoted as saying it should be "up to local people".
Responding to Dr Lewis's written parliamentary questions last week, junior health minister Ann Keen said Mr Brown had been referring to the legal duties of a strategic health authority to "consult and ascertain opinion" before deciding on fluoridation.
But later in the House of Commons, Dr Lewis asked the leader of the house, Harriet Harman, for a statement from the prime minister himself to tell MPs exactly what he meant.
He said: "All the MPs, including one of the prime minister's cabinet colleagues, have said that because of lack of public support, the process should not go ahead, yet the undemocratic strategic health authority is pressing on with it.
"What did the prime minister mean when he said that the people will decide?"
Ms Harman advised Dr Lewis to take his case to the south-east's regional committees of MPs, and lobby ministers and the prime minister.
About 190,000 will be affected overall if fluoridation goes ahead in 2010 to target child tooth decay. But objectors fear it has harmful side-effects prompting a 15,000-name petition to be delivered to Number 10 last month.
Dr Lewis's demand for the decision to be called-in and reviewed was rejected by Mrs Keen because she said it would "not be appropriate" as a bid had been launched by a Southampton resident for a judicial
Answering Dr Lewis's series of written parliamentary questions, she said NHS executives had to be sure the health benefits outweighed all arguments against.
She also highlighted guidance from the government's chief dental officer which said a strategic health authority "cannot base its decision solely on a simple count of the representations for or against the proposal".
Dr Lewis also asked for a response to comments during the consultation by former health secretary Alan Johnson in favour of fluoride, which he has claimed showed bias.
Mrs Keen said: "The government supports the fluoridation of water because of the potential it offers for reducing inequalities in oral health. To help inform public consultations, ministers will, if asked, explain the reasons for their support."

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