The health of vulnerable children in South Gloucestershire is not being properly assessed.

Health chiefs have accused care provider Sirona of “burying its head in the sand” over the failures.

The company is supposed to provide initial health checks for 90 per cent of looked-after youngsters within 28 days of them moving into the area. InSouth Gloucestershire this was just 24 per cent, 12 out of 50, in 2018/19.

Figures in Bristol, seven per cent of 123 children, are even worse.

Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) ordered Sirona to produce a remedial action plan to address the “exceptionally poor performance”, which it submitted earlier this month.

The provider, which was awarded the contract to provide initial health assessments (IHAs) and, after a child has been in the area 12 months, review health assessments (RHAs) from 2017 to 2022, insists it needs more money and has requested £155,000 for three extra specialist nurses.

But the CCG has dismissed the request after launching a “forensic review” of the service which confirmed funding had not reduced and there had actually been a four per cent drop in the number of children in care moving to Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

CCG interim director of nursing and quality Janet Baptiste-Grant said: “Since 2016, for the children resident in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, Sirona has consistently failed to meet the 90 per cent target, producing In 2018/19 the lowest levels ever of seven per cent of looked-after children in Bristol receiving the IHAs and only 35 per cent receiving the follow-on, 12-month review assessment.

“Clearly there have been lots of questions with Sirona about this, and Sirona’s response has been that they’re underfunded, that they do not have the capacity to undertake these assessments.

“What we are saying is that is not the case."

According to Sirona’s 2018/19 figures, it provided RHAs in the required timeframe for 112 out of 324 looked-after children in Bristol, equal to only 35 per cent, and 25 of the 58 youngsters in care in South Gloucestershire, or 43 per cent.

Bristol north and west GP locality representative Dr Kirsty Alexander said: “

“It must be very painful for Sirona to have to say it is not doing really well because it was doing extremely well before.

“The demands are quite high and resources are probably more challenging than they appear here.”

Bristol south GP locality representative Dr Brian Hanratty said: “They seemed to be doing very well up until 18 months ago.

“There has been no disinvestment. What has happened for there to be a complete nosedive?”

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, Sirona care & health’s director of nursing and operations and Ms Baptiste-Grant said: “It is important to Sirona and the CCG that local children, young people and families receive the support they need.

“We are disappointed targets are not being met for some of our most vulnerable children and are working together to ensure the effective use of resources to achieve this shared goal.”

Sirona’s figures show that 100 per cent of in care did receive IHAs but the vast majority were not within the 28-day limit.