Parents of nearly 90 per cent of Wanganui four-year-olds are taking their children in for free B4 School Checks, according to the Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB).

The Government spends $11 million a year to provide the B4SC service, which entitles every four-year-old to a free health assessment before they begin primary school.

"The idea behind the service is to ensure children have the best possible start to their school education with any health and development barriers to learning identified and supported," WDHB portfolio manager maternal child and youth health Jon Buchan said.

"If, for example, a child is found to have a hearing difficulty which could impact on their learning, they will be referred to an appropriate specialist.


"B4 School Checks cover vision, hearing, growth, dental, weight, immunisations, and speech, among others," he said.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said he was recently told of a parent who took her daughter for one of the checks and discovered her child had eyesight issues.

"They identified she was long-sighted in one eye and had been wholly dependent on her other eye to read and play with friends," Mr Ryall said.

WDHB had an 88 per cent screening rate of eligible children in 2012-13, eight per cent above the target set by the Ministry of Health.

The target has been lifted to 90 per cent for 2013/14, and Wanganui is currently sitting fourth equal on the leader table, seven per cent above the national average.

Whanganui Regional Health Network (WRHN) B4 School facilitator Janine Spence said there was a number of reasons for the other 12 per cent that weren't screened last year.

"Sometimes it's just because they don't recognise it as something that they want for their children," she said.

Mrs Spence said the best time for the check was soon after the child turned four, as this allowed time for any identified problems to be dealt with before the child started school. The check is not available once the child turns five. "Pre-school children are at a crucial stage of their development," said Mr Ryall.

"By getting in early and identifying how kids are doing before they enter school, we can make sure they get the help they need to participate to their full ability."

In the past six months, nearly 500 Wanganui four-year-olds were screened - 58 more than over the same period last year.

"The B4 School Check gives parents a free opportunity to discuss their child's health and development with a nurse," Mr Ryall said.

Figures from last year's checks show 28 out of 380 children were referred on for dental decay, five out of 377 for extreme obesity, and six per cent of children who took a hearing test had to be rescreened.

Parents can contact their local GP to arrange a check.