AN extra 23 nurses and midwives will be recruited as part of a £700,000 scheme to ensure vulnerable children receive the best possible start in life in Swindon.

NHS England awarded Swindon Council the grant, to be staggered over three years in 2012, to increase its health visitor numbers from 29 to 52.

It is part of Government plans to improve support to young children and their families and ensure they do not fall through the safety net.

So far the local authority has hired seven new staff. The last batch of 16 visitors is due to start in September.

“Soon after the Government came into power the Prime Minister himself made a promise to increase the national workforce of health visitors,” said Louise Campion, principal officer Health and Wellbeing for Swindon Council’s children, families and community health service.

“Evidence shows that what they do is very important and so is the impact it can have on the long term outcomes for young people, even into adult age.

“Every mother who has a baby has a health visitor.

“It’s a holistic assessment of how the baby is developing but also the mother and family’s health and mental health.

“And obviously if the child is already involved with social care, the health visitor will be part of that plan.

“Having 52 health visitors will allow them to respond more quickly. At the moment some families have to wait and it can be frustrating for them.”

Health visitors encourage, empower and support parents, guardians and carers to ensure the healthy development of their children.

“They carry out visits to all families before birth, following the birth, at six weeks of age, three and four months and around two.

A visitor will also assess whether more visits are needed and can help families with anything from education training, to access to immunisation.

Increased staff numbers mean each visitor will look after about 300 families as opposed to the current 500 caseload, allowing them to dedicate more time to each.

It is hoped increased focus and spending on caring for children directly at home, will offset the impact of seven children’s centre closures across Swindon next April.

“Health visitors are a key part of our frontline work force that will identify vulnerable children and families and the need for extra support,” said Louise “It’s very much about prevention and early intervention.

“It is sad that children’s centres are diminishing because it is all part of one big plan and children’s centres and health visitors work closely together.

“But we are not increasing numbers in response to the situation locally. It is a Government programme that started in April 2012.”