LIVES are being put at risk because of a lack of paramedics in the Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS), according to a patients' organisation.

Figures show that only 48 per cent of staff in the service are qualified paramedics - making it one of the "worst" in the country.

Rather than a paramedic, who is trained to administer intravenous drugs which can stabilise patients following conditions such as heart attacks, most emergency calls are answered by emergency medical technicians who also carry less life-saving equipment.

According to the Patients' Association, this is putting lives at risk.

But UNISON, which represents paramedics, said it thought the research, which was carried out for television's Tonight With Trevor McDonald, bordered on "scaremongering".

Ray Gray, regional officer for Yorkshire and Humberside, said the original aim was to have one paramedic on board every ambulance along with a technician.

Therefore, if 48 per cent of staff were paramedics, the ambulance trust was close to achieving the target.

He said there were issues around the training of paramedics because ambulance trusts could not always afford to send staff on the necessary courses, but Mr Gray felt the biggest danger to patients was the proposal to replace technicians with ambulance health care assistants.

This would mean there would be only one medically-trained member of staff in each ambulance, as opposed to two. He added that deaths attributed to the lack of a paramedic on board ambulances were few and far between, but there have been some.

In Knaresborough 18 months ago, Bruce Cartwright choked to death. A paramedic was actually available but was not sent out. The technicians who were sent were not trained in the use of forceps, which might have removed the blockage from Mr Cartwright's throat.

In comparison to the YAS, 74 per cent of ambulance staff on the Isle of Wight are paramedics while the next best performing trust, the West Midlands Ambulance Service has 61.2 per cent of staff trained as paramedics.

John Darley, operations director for YAS, said the service was recruiting more paramedics, and emergency medical technicians were trained in the same skills.