Penny’s Piece » May 2014

R_PennyGaylorLast week at Council we held our Annual Plan hearings, with 750 written submissions to read, a large share of those were on the issue of whether or not to continue the fluoridation of the water supply to Waikanae and Paraparaumu urban residents. Otaki and Paekakariki have never had their water fluoridated. And rural residents aren’t part of the water networks that can be fluoridated.

We met for hearings over three days, 10am–5pm, 10am–9pm and 10am–9pm respectively. And fluoride submitters presented to us at the Hearings account for two of those three days.

Both sides of the debate were put to Council. And now I have to let those presentations and submissions percolate, because on 26 June our Council will finalise the Annual Plan and decide on the fluoridation matter.

A recurring question in my mind and in the minds of others is why is this not a central government policy decision? Instead local government entities are required to make a public health decision, without the mandate, expertise or resources. My question to the Regional Public Health Officer and the Ministry of Health Chief Dental Officer was “if you have such faith and confidence in the (large body) of evidence of the benefits of water fluoridation, why does the government not compel and require all councils to dispense fluoride through their water networks?”

The Ministry response, in essence, was that it’s not the Ministry’s place to cut across the Local Government Act which empowers communities to make their own choices on health matters. Oh, I thought, that was the place of the respective DHBs who are tasked with the job of allocating health resources to local communities based on the communities’ health needs and wants. That’s why they too have community representatives elected every three years.

To me this is just another too hard job that the Government is flicking off to local government to deal with, without allocating resources. Better dental health for children was an ongoing concern and focus for submitters on either side of the debate. And the frustration was shared that children and adults are consuming too many foods and beverages with high levels of sugars in them which in turn causes tooth decay. Meanwhile health funding for children’s dental care has been reduced to the point where only a minimal care programme is provided in schools and representatives from the Capital & Coast Health Board expressed their concern about the long-term sustainability of dental care for children.

And the need to address these health issues are all the more concerning given the unacceptable level of child poverty that is present across New Zealand today, and including in our own community here in Otaki.