Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 09:37 UK

Swine flu plan for dental nurses

The dental nurses would not be expected to treat patients

Dental nurses could be drafted in to ease pressure on Tyneside hospital staff if the swine flu pandemic becomes significantly worse, says the NHS.

The nurses would be used to provide administrative or triage services, rather than medical treatment.

Dr Meng Khaw, director of public health for North Tyneside Primary Care Trust, said the plan would only be implemented if hospitals were under strain.

The British Dental Association (BDA) said NHS staff should "pull together".

Dentists work as independent contractors, therefore dental nurses are not employed directly by the NHS.

Nurses are trained healthcare professionals and would expect to help out in such an emergency
Martin Fulford, British Dental Association

However, should areas of weakness in the health service be identified, discussions would be held with dental businesses in that area, said the PCT.

According to Dr Khaw, the number of swine flu cases is likely to increase during autumn.

He said: "There's no indication at the moment that we'll get to a stage where we have to call on the whole health economy to help in our response.

"We're looking towards autumn time when we're expecting to hit the peak weeks of this pandemic.

"[Dental] Nurses are not qualified to treat medical conditions, and the sorts of roles that dental nurses would be asked to do might be taking phone calls, triaging patents, and providing information and signposting patients to other services."

'Healthcare professionals'

The nurses would receive specific training for any such work, he added.

He also suggested that dental surgeries could cope with reduced staff by deferring patients who do not require urgent treatment.

BDA spokesman Martin Fulford said: "I think with the appropriate training it's time for everyone to pull together.

"We need to look at the NHS in its entirety and prioritise our working practices.

"Nurses are trained healthcare professionals and would expect to help out in such an emergency."

The government's National Pandemic Flu Service, providing phone and internet support to the public, was launched last week.

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