A BLUEPRINT to tackle the chronic shortage of NHS dentists in North Yorkshire was been unveiled today.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton will set out measures to increase the number of dentists offering free treatment.

It comes as City of York MP Hugh Bayley revealed there was not a single NHS dental practice in his constituency taking new patients.

He said: "We need to increase the number of places at dental training schools.

"I have invited the minister to visit York so we can thrash out these problems."

The long-awaited announcement is expected to outline new investment in dental services.

The government is also believed to be planning to increase the number of training places at dental schools by about 25 per cent.

It is also likely to reveal details of long-term plans to reform dental services.

One proposal which may get the go-ahead is to train "dental therapists", who could perform most fillings and routine treatments.

The Government is also expected to set targets for the number of dentists who should be working in the NHS by the end of next year.

This may include plans to bring in dentists from countries such as Poland. Five years ago, Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged everyone who wanted it should have access to NHS dental care.

But it is estimated that around half the population in England do not have access to an NHS dentist.

Health Secretary John Reid said: "The problem is not that there's a shortage of dentists, but that fewer of them are opting to do NHS work.

"The system of payment we have now is so complex, the system of treatment is so bureaucratic, the contract within they work is so difficult to tend to.

"There will be greater funding, a greater number of training places. We will also attract more returnees and recruit more from abroad." Mr Reid also promised a new contract would be introduced for dentists over the next 15 to 18 months.

The requirement for people to register with a dentist, and then have a check-up every six months - even if their teeth are healthy - will be examined.

The British Dental Association (BDA) is calling for a 25 per cent increase in the number of training places to provide the number of dentists the UK needs.

It says it would not be difficult to fill any extra training places which were created.

There are currently two applicants for every place which is now available.

Updated: 10:25 Friday, July 16, 2004