A passing police officer had to drive a dying girl to hospital in an ambulance after a cash-strapped trust sent just one paramedic.

Three-year-old Ellie Conlon, from Redditch, Worcestershire, died after choking on a piece of sausage during a family holiday in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, in July.

A policeman stopped to help the sick youngster, as parents James, aged 26, and Sheryl, 23, desperately tried to dislodge the food.

There was only one ambulance on call in the town - and it did not have a full crew of two.

The lone paramedic, who drove himself, had to accept an offer from the policeman to drive to hospital in the ambulance, as he fought to save the toddler's life.

Ellie was taken to Weston General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead a short time later, at 1.30pm, on July 15. An inquest has been opened and adjourned.

Staff at Great Western Ambulance Trust have reportedly voiced concerns over staffing after the tragedy.

Lack of cover has been blamed on a five per cent budget cut since Avon Ambulance merged with the neighbouring Gloucestershire and Wiltshire services in April.

An efficiency drive has meant the trust is not paying for extra cover when staff are absent.

Debbie Pugh-Jones, trust spokeswoman, played down fears lives were at risk and insisted only one paramedic aiding Ellie was routine.

"It is not uncommon for the first responder to a 999 call to be single-handed if they are the nearest person.

"We can confirm that a police officer worked together with a member of the ambulance service in a bid to save her life. The ambulance reached the girl within three minutes of the call being received at the control room.

"The crew realised the urgent nature of the girl's condition and, as the hospital was only a minute's drive away, it was agreed to take the unusual action of getting the police officer to drive the ambulance.

"The girl reached hospital within six minutes of the ambulance control room receiving the call."

Ms Pugh-Jones admitted the trust faced tough financial challenges.

She said: "The Avon sector of Great Western Ambulance has to make decisions on how to allocate resources as efficiently as possible."