Ambulance service chiefs are looking to down under to try and plug a gap of 100 paramedics in their ranks.
The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) is seeing an overhaul of shifts, ambulance crews, vehicles and priorities as part of an effort to improve.
But an independent survey has found the service needs to find the equivalent of 272 extra paramedics to keep serving the region properly.
Victoria Court, deputy chief operating officer at NEAS, told a Redcar and Cleveland Council meeting how the service was now looking to Australia to find extra staff.
She said: “There are not 272 out there we could recruit tomorrow – but we have a plan where we know how many are going to come out of Teesside University and Sunderland University.
“We also actively recruit nationally to see if there’s any paramedics who want to relocate in England.
“And we’re also recruiting from Australia because they’ve got an excess of paramedics.”
Paramedics have to do a four year degree to get into the job.
A total of 42 were recruited to NEAS last year – and ambulance chiefs say the equivalent of 132 will be “found” by reducing illness, adjusting shift patterns and improving “turnaround times”.
But that still leaves a gap of 100 paramedics to fill.
The meeting heard heard how there’d been big changes to ambulance service targets in the past two years – which had sparked the overhaul at NEAS.
Response target times were changed in October 2017 – meaning ambulances now have to get the most life threatening calls in an average of seven minutes.
And 90% of all those most serious calls must have an ambulance on scene in 15 minutes or less.
Ms Court said: “We’ve tried to look at how the public are using the ambulance service and change to meet that demand.
“We’ve identified that once upon a time people only phoned an ambulance when they were in a critical condition.
“Now they will phone the ambulance from everything from a stubbed toe right through to being in cardiac arrest – and we needed to respond to that.”
On the back of the new targets, Ms Court said they worked out NEAS “wasn’t performing particularly well” and people were waiting too long.
This triggered the external review which led to calls for 272 extra paramedics.
“This gives you an indication why we were historically struggling because we were just far too under-resourced,” added Ms Court.
A £10.4m investment from the 10 North-east clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) is helping pay for the changes.
But the meeting also heard how £9.4m still needs to be found from “improved efficiencies” within the ambulance service to fund the overhaul.
Ms Court also said the number of “single responders” would fall in the region – but overall the number of double-crewed ambulances would “significantly increase” from 74 to 112.
“It’s probably the biggest increase we’ve had in 15 years in the ambulance service,” she added.
NEAS hopes the extra 100 paramedics will be recruited by Christmas.
Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporting Service