Barriers to water fluoridation to be demolished in radical NHS reforms

The announcement in the White Paper that responsibility for water fluoridation is to be returned into the control of central Government is welcomed by the British Fluoridation Society and the many dentists, public health officials and social justice campaigners who support the work of the BFS.

For some time, it’s been clear that water fluoridation is supported in Westminster. The hope of campaigning organisations like BFS was that NHS England would provide the funding that is essential to implement water fluoridation schemes.

But our hopes have been surpassed. The planned reforms go much further: by undoing the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which devolved control of water fluoridation to local authorities, the Government is breaking down numerous barriers. It is taking back responsibility for funding and implementing water fluoridation and will be in a position to  drive forward and implement schemes.

Some 6m people in the UK benefit from a fluoridated water supply and in those areas, oral health is better than in neighbouring non-fluoridated areas. Research shows that the greater the deprivation, the greater the benefit that water fluoridation bestows.

Currently, it is local authorities that must fund the costs of water fluoridation, negotiate with water companies and carry out public consultations. While there is a commitment to improve oral health, especially in children, in many areas, the cost and work involved is too high when there are many competing demands and budgets are limited. There have been no new schemes since the 1980s and plans to extend schemes have repeatedly stalled.

Barry Cockcroft

The proposals in the White Paper are set to make a radical difference. The plans will require legislation with implementation of reforms due to start in 2022. The Government has committed to engaging with the devolved administrations on the White Paper. BFS hopes that all areas of the UK where children’s oral health needs are highest will be able to benefit from water fluoridation.

“We would like to see the Government moving forward with targeted water fluoridation in the areas of high need as soon as possible,” commented Barry Cockcroft, BFS advocate and former CDO England. “We look forward to learning if local authorities  with plans for a water fluoridation scheme already in place, such as in the North East, can proceed soon, with the cost of the mandatory public consultation met by Government. We welcome the advent of public consultations and the opportunity to share the extensive amount of research on the benefits of water fluoridation.”