The ambulance service that covers Brighton and Hove is short of 50 fully qualified paramedics across the entire organisation.

The shortage emerged as councillors were told the South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) would operate a new-look 111 service from next year.

Ambulance chiefs have recruited enough new starters to serve the Kent and Sussex area, councillors heard, although it would take two years for the recruits to become fully qualified.

The reassurance was given at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee at Hove Town Hall.

Colin Simmons, the integrated urgent care programme director for the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Sussex, said Secamb would work with out-of-hours specialist IC24 on the new 111 contract.

The NHS 111 helpline was designed to encourage people to use alternatives to hospital accident and emergency departments unless they were seriously ill or injured.

When the new contract starts in April next year, a greater variety of medical professionals would be available on the end of a phone.

Mr Simmons told councillors there would be GPs, nurses, midwives and pharmacists.

He said: “We will have initial triage then work out if they need 999 and emergency departments as some people may not realise how ill they are.

“We are moving away from automated triage and passing people over to clinicians, pharmacists, GPs and paramedics.”

It was hoped that medical professionals would handle half of all calls made to 111 under the new contract.

And if callers needed to be seen then the NHS 111 staff would be able to arrange direct appointments for urgent treatment as health chiefs provided improved and extended access to GP surgeries.

Councillors were told that 111 was intended to reduce long waits to access other medical services as an appointment time could be agreed and made.

Mr Simmons also referred to the growing network of urgent treatment centres.

He said: “If we have urgent treatment centres next to A&Es, we can make sure people go to the right place at the right time.”