A new dental access hotline has attracted 200 calls in its first week

A new dental access hotline has attracted 200 calls in its first week.

Trafford North and South primary care trusts launched the service in late July in response to growing concern about the lack of NHS dentists in the area. So far, 500 check-up appointments have been made for residents who would not previously have had access to an NHS dentist.

In the new service, Trafford residents who are not listed with an NHS dentist can call a freephone number operated by NHS Direct.

Dental nurses provide initial telephone triage and make appointments for those patients needing one, including those who need emergency treatment.

The PCTs have employed one dentist and one and a half dental nurses to work on two sites owned by the trusts. Patients pay the same as they would for any NHS dental treatment.

Dr Robert Queenborough, executive clinical director at the PCTs, said: 'It's as if you were going to a dentist but without the catch at the end where they say, ?this was private and here's the bill?.'

He added: 'This is a good model. I am just sitting here waiting for it to be deluged and overwhelmed.' He is already looking to employ a second dentist.

North and South Trafford are short of NHS dentists, he said. In the affluent south many are turning private. In the more deprived north, a significant number of dentists signed up to the general dental services contract are not taking on new NHS patients because they fear the contract will not pay enough.

The new service is based in North Trafford's most deprived area, Dr Queenborough added.

Tim Riley, chief executive of Trafford PCTs, said: 'We were under a lot of pressure to increase access to NHS dentists and this seems a good model.'

Appointments can be booked up to three weeks ahead but Dr Riley said the system could be used to schedule annual check-ups as it grows.

Dr Queenborough said the service had introduced competition into primary dental care, and dentists anxious to explore contractual arrangements outside GDS and

personal dental services had already approached him.

Lester Ellman, chair of the British Dental Association's general dental practice committee and chair of the Salford and Trafford local dental committee, agreed it was a good model and hoped it was taken up elsewhere.

'I have said consistently to the government that there must be NHS provision for those who cannot afford and those who do not wish to go private, and on the face of it this seems a good way of providing that,' he said.