Water fluoridation: DHBs to take control from councils under Govt proposal
Putting water fluoridation decisions in the hands of district health boards, rather than local councils, should lead to more water supplies being fluoridated, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says.
The Government has announced plans to transfer decision-making powers for fluoridating water supplies away from local authorities, which have faced fierce debate at times over the issue, to DHBs.
Coleman said he was keen to see more fluoridation of New Zealand supplies to combat the country's high rates of avoidable tooth decay.
Only 27 of the country's 67 local authorities were fluoridating their water, leaving 1.4 million Kiwis in areas without fluoridation, while councils had "consistently" told Coleman they did not want to be in charge of making decisions on fluoridation.
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"They [DHBs] know health and they're very focused on the health needs of their communities, and they've also got the resources to gather the scientific information and make the right decision."
Local residents would still be able to have a say through their DHBs, but Coleman hoped the change would lead to "much more fluoridation".
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said DHBs were "better placed to make that call" than councils on fluoridation.
"The sort of nonsense we've had of late where councils have chopped and changed their views hasn't been particularly helpful, so we think this is a chance to get a health perspective on making the decision about fluoridation."
Dunne said each DHB would have to determine its own decision-making process, as well as whether they would "roll over" their existing fluoridation arrangements.
'NEVER AN ISSUE FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT'
Labour health spokeswoman Annette King welcomed the move, saying fluoridation "was never an issue for local government".
However, King said the Ministry of Health should set a standard for water fluoridation, which the DHBs could then implement.
Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said the proposal was the right one, as assessing claims about the potential benefits and harms of water fluoridation "falls outside the expertise and experience of local authorities".
Yule said the decision would remove the risk of expensive lawsuits for councils, while keeping a democratic body in charge of fluoridation decisions.
NZ Dental Association chief executive David Crum said the proposal was "a brilliant step in the right direction".
"This could well lead to many many more New Zealanders receiving the health benefits of drinking adequately fluoridated water," Crum said.