Proposed legislative changes: decision-making on the fluoridation of drinking-water supplies

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In April 2016, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced proposed legislative changes to allow district health boards (DHBs) to direct local authorities to fluoridate community water supplies in their areas.

The proposed Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill would implement these changes by amending Part 2A (Drinking-Water) of the Health Act 1956.

Why we want to change the current arrangement

DHBs have a statutory mandate to improve, promote and protect the health of people and communities and to reduce health outcome disparities between various population groups.  Giving DHBs the power to direct which water supplies should be fluoridated aligns with DHBs’ responsibilities with respect to public health and with their expertise. The decision whether or not to fluoridate currently only sits with local authorities, who are responsible for providing local infrastructure and water supplies - but aren’t experts in health, and are often advised by the DHB anyway.

What the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill covers

The Bill describes the:

  • powers and duties of DHBs in relation to making directions for or against water fluoridation
  • duties of water suppliers (including local authorities) in relation to implementing DHB directives about water fluoridation.

In deciding whether to make a direction to fluoridate, DHBs will be required to consider:

  • scientific evidence on the effectiveness of adding fluoride to drinking water in reducing the prevalence and severity of dental decay
  • whether the benefits of adding fluoride to drinking water outweigh the costs, including consideration of local oral health status, population numbers, and financial cost.

Water suppliers will be required to fluoridate or not fluoridate a water supply if directed to do so by the DHB in their region. Those already fluoridating will be required to continue to do so unless directed by their regional DHB to stop.

Timeframes for proposed changes to legislation

The Bill will follow the normal Parliamentary processes.

See the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill for more information, timeframes and process.

DHB Working Group

To help ensure a smooth implementation and workability of the Bill, as well as the development of resources for DHB decision-making, the Ministry has established a DHB Working Group. Members come from a range of DHBs and expertise, including representatives from Oral Health, Public Health / Medical Officers of Health, Planning and Funding and Legal.

Background documents

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