The health of Queenslanders will suffer as a result of moves against fluoridation of the state’s water supplies and the State Government’s broader undermining of public health activities.
This is the thrust of a letter from Michael Moore, the ceo of the Public Health Association of Australia, which has just been sent to all MPs in the Queensland Parliament, as published below.
A letter to Queensland MPs: Fluoridation is a safe, proven public health measure that needs your full support
The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) is concerned about the level of misinformation being presented to MPs in the Queensland Parliament over the issue of fluoridation of water and the impact of structural changes on public health capacity.
Unfortunately, due to the emasculation of the population health policy capacity of the Department of Health in Queensland, the capability to provide sound, considered and academically-based advice has been greatly diminished.
Therefore, I am writing to you to request that you resist any moves that might reduce the proven benefits of fluoridation of water.
The reality is that the benefits of fluoridation far outweigh the risks.
Australia’s most prevalent health problem is dental cavities. Indeed, dental admissions are the highest cause of acute preventable hospital admissions. Fluoridation of water reduces the pain to the individual and costs to taxpayers. The costs of dental care to both State and Federal governments are significant and are likely to increase with the introduction of the proposed ‘Denticare’ system that is similar to ‘Medicare’. Fluoridation of drinking water remains the most effective and socially equitable means of achieving community-wide exposure to the caries prevention effects of fluoride.
All Australian capital cities except Brisbane fluoridated their water supplies in the 1960s and 70s. In 1964, Townsville became the largest Queensland city to fluoridate its water supply, and studies since have shown children in Townsville to have significantly fewer cavities than children in Brisbane.
Australia’s top scientific body, the National Health and Medical Research Council, is committed to assessing evidence in health care. The Council has strongly supported the safety and efficacy of fluoridation of water supplies. In 2007 it undertook ‘A systematic review of the efficacy and safety of fluoridation’. It focussed on the “caries-reducing benefits and associated potential health risks of providing fluoride systemically (via addition to water, milk and salt) and the use of topical fluoride agents (such as toothpaste, gel, varnish and mouthrinse)”.
After examining over 5,500 scientific papers in a systematic manner, the Australian scientists brought down an extraordinarily careful and conservative report. Even so, they determined “evidence strongly suggests that water fluoridation is beneficial at reducing dental caries”. They reported “there is no clear association between water fluoridation and overall cancer incidence or mortality (for ‘all cause’ cancer, and specifically for bone cancer and osteosarcoma). They also concluded that there was not enough evidence to suggest any other negative risks.
We know the benefits of fluoridation. The so-called risks are about scaremongering rather than fact. This is why all Australian governments have carefully considered the issues and introduced or retained fluoride in the water supplies of our major cities and most of rural Australia.
Although the Queensland Government has now significantly reduced its health policy capacity, the following information on fluoridation does remain on Queensland Health’s government website: http://www.health.qld.gov.au/fluoride/document/fluoride_fact_sheet.pdf. The site provides information on tooth decay, cost-effectiveness and safety of water fluoridation and provides to links for more detailed information.
Because of changes regarding public health capacity within the Queensland Health the PHAA wrote to the Minister for Health, The Hon Lawrence Springborg MP, in October this year expressing our concerns and presenting some positive ideas about the Public Health Units (PHUs) the transitioning of the Hospital and Health Services (HHSs). We understand that the transition was minus any health promotion and chronic disease prevention staff. It was our further understanding that this largely means that it is primarily only environmental health and communicable disease control teams that are being transferred.
Our association worked with the LNP in Opposition. I personally met with the Shadow Minister, Hon Mark McCardle, as recently as January 11th this year to discuss how the PHAA might assist with ideas in developing policy responses to public health issues. I also followed up by providing a specific proposal regarding restructure in the public health area of Queensland Health. I have attached a copy of the submission** that we prepared prior to the election and we have since made available to the Minister. It proposed the establishment of ‘The Queensland Population Health Institute’. Our aim was to provide an explanation of the challenges and suggests a solution to maintain Queensland public health capability.
Our concerns have been particularly about the disintegration of the health promotion and chronic disease prevention infrastructure. We understand that under the Preventive Health Partnership, money for jurisdictions is tied to achieving outcomes – improvements in key health indicators – starting at the end of 2013. The QLD Government’s decision to cut health promotion infrastructure may well result in a failure to achieve these targets and secure Commonwealth funding, on top of a loss of health improvements and longer term impacts on hospital costs.
The issue is not just about fluoridation of the water supply. The PHAA is concerned that the cumulative impact of changes currently taking place in Queensland will result in a long-term negative impact on public health, impacting most heavily on marginalised and disadvantaged groups within the community.
Public Health Association of Australia
** This proposal is available upon request to Croakey. Please leave your contact details below or email me direct.
• Note to MPs – stop buying into conspiracy theories about fluoride: Michael Vagg at The Conversation
• Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek says the Queensland Government should reconsider: ABC radio interview
• Previous Croakey coverage of the Qld Health cuts