Barriers to water fluoridation to be demolished in radical NHS reforms

09 February 2021
1 min read

Responsibility for water fluoridation is due to be returned into the control of central government according to a leaked document setting out reforms to the National Health Service. The news is welcomed by the British Fluoridation Society and the many dentists, public health officials and social justice campaigners who support its work.

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

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.

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.

The BFS hopes that all areas of the UK where children’s oral health needs are highest will be able to benefit from water fluoridation, contributing to improved health and reduced inequality. The leaked white paper has the working title ‘Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all’ and is due to be made public this month.