Patient watchdogs have cast doubt on prime minister Tony Blair's pledge to provide 30 'phone and go' dentist schemes, saying pilots leave significant gaps in service.

A Department of Health statement supporting the Labour Party conference announcement said two schemes were 'up and running' in Shropshire and Cornwall.

But Shropshire community health council chief officer Christine Smith said: 'We have personal dental services pilots in Telford and Shrewsbury, but you can't join a list as you can with an NHS dentist.

'The problem remains that currently no dentist in Shropshire is accepting NHS patients.'

In addition, she said, the pilots still meant a journey of up to 30 miles for patients in rural areas, where public transport was poor, and they only offered one-off treatment.

Cornwall CHC chair Neil Burden praised the county's scheme, but also emphasised: 'The problem with it is that it's still an emergency-only service.'

Dr Anthony Kravitz, chair of the British Dental Association's dental services committee, welcomed 'the fact that the prime minister has spoken about dentistry.'

But he said he was 'not aware of a proper evaluation' of the Cornwall and Shropshire projects, which nobody locally knew as 'phone and go'.

He also asked: 'Where are you going to get all the dentists from? We're not training enough to cope with what there is at the moment.'

See news focus, pages 11-12.