The Government has announced an amendment to the currently pending Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill that is certain to bring fluoridation to Hawke’s Bay’s municipally delivered drinking water.
Currently none of our local councils are fluoridating our water, with Hastings having currently devoted its delivery system to chlorine, with fluoridation planned to resume after infrastructure upgrade.
The Bill had been drafted to transfer authority for this decision from local councils to District Health Boards – i.e., from one politically sensitive body to another, leaving outcomes uncertain.
However this week Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall announced an amendment to shift that authority instead to the Director-General of Health, currently the esteemed Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Said Dr Verrall: “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.
“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.”
There is no doubt what the Government wants to see done. From Dr Verrall’s statement:
“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.
“Community water fluoridation is a proven public health measure that will make a big difference to children’s wellbeing.
“The current level of fluoride found naturally in our water supplies is not enough to prevent tooth decay.
“’Topping up’ fluoride levels allows the well-established health benefits to reach all New Zealanders, especially our children, Māori and Pacific populations and people in our poorer communities.
So, the decision will soon be in Dr Bloomfield’s hands. The nation has trusted him on Covid … let’s see how his personal ‘brand equity’ rubs off on fluoridation!