Government to give control of water fluoridation to the health director general, Ashley Bloomfield, wresting power from councils

The Government is taking control of water fluoridation from councils and giving it to health director general Ashley Bloomfield.
Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall announced the policy on Thursday, dusting off a long dormant bill from the National government that was to give fluoridation power to local district health boards (DHBs).

She will amend that bill so it will instead give the power to the director general of health, who is currently Bloomfield.

The proposed change, which will be made by a Supplementary Order Paper, simplifies the decision making and means we are taking a nationally consistent approach thats based on evidence, Verrall said.

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Around 6,500 children under the age of nine were admitted to hospital for tooth decay and associated infections in 2019. The Fluoridation Bill as a whole recognises water fluoridation is a health-related issue. Right now only around 2.3 million New Zealanders have access to fluoridated drinking water.

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Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said the change would ensure a nationally consistent level of fluoride.

The change will likely prove controversial, as the anti-fluoridation movement has successfully lobbied local councils to halt fluoridation in the past.

Fluoride is a chemical added to more than half of New Zealand's drinking water in minuscule amounts to promote healthy teeth.

While fluoride can be toxic in large amounts, the Ministry of Health has said a person would need to drink thousands of glasses of water in a single sitting to obtain anything near a lethal dose.

A 2009 study found that Kiwi children in areas with fluoridated drinking water had 40 per cent less tooth decay than children living in areas without, on average. However, some people find the practice abominable, arguing that Kiwis should have the right to choose what medicines they take.

The entire DHB system is itself about to be torn up as the Government implements the results of the Heather Simpson Review, which recommended halving the number of DHBs and removing DHB elections.

Several DHB candidates in 2016 elections opposed fluoridation.

Verrall said the current level of fluoride found in natural water supplies was not high enough to protect against tooth decay.

Topping up fluoride levels allows the well-established health benefits to reach all New Zealanders, especially our children, Mori and Pacific populations and people in our poorer communities, Verrall said.

The Bill was introduced into the House in 2016. Given that fluoridating our drinking water is widely recognised as the single-most important initiative to improve oral health, I expect this Bill to pass this year.

She said funding would be available for councils to actually operationalise the decisions.

Local Councils are responsible for the capital and operational costs of fluoridation. There will be funding available to support local councils with fluoridation related infrastructure work.


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