PEOPLE concerned about north Durham's dental services are being urged to attend a public meeting next month.

The Durham and Chester-le-Street Patients and Public Involvement (PPI) Forum is organising the event so the area's health chiefs can outline the steps they are taking to tackle the shortage of NHS places.

The meeting, which will be in the town's Bullion Hall on Thursday, January 5, will also give people the chance to say what they think about the problem.

No practices in Durham are now taking on new NHS patients, reflecting a national trend where dentists are turning their back on NHS work because they can earn more treating patients privately.

Michael Fishwick, the forum's support co-ordinator, said the dental situation was a major concern to people throughout the area.

The forum, which is an independent body that monitors the area's health services and helps shape future provision, held a meeting on the subject earlier in the year to learn about the experiences of local people.

"It has been an issue for a while, particularly in Durham City, certainly more so than in Chester-le-Street,'' said Mr Fishwick.

"It is something that we have been working on very closely with the Durham and Chester-le-Street Primary Care Trust and its Patients Advice and Liaison Service, and they have come to us and asked us if they can give us a presentation.

"We thought it would be a good idea to make it a special meeting, and give the public an opportunity to ask some questions.''

Mr Fishwick said the trust was taking action to fill gaps in the service, including taking on two salaried dentists to give NHS treatment.

He said: "They are making a difference. The feedback we are getting is that the service is good to excellent, although there are specific problems with some individuals getting access to it.''

Mr Fishwick added that drawing up proposals to increase NHS provision was being made more difficult because of uncertainty over the dentists' contract the Government has proposed nationally.

The meeting, which Mr Fishwick said will be informal, will be between 6.30pm and 8pm and everyone interested is welcome to attend.