SOUTH Central Ambulance Service paid £13.6miilion to private and voluntary companies to answer its calls last year – the highest of any ambulance trust in the country.

Bosses of the service, which has a patch which includes the New Forest, have claimed there was “no alternative” to the spending.

The figure emerged following a Freedom of Information request which revealed that NHS spending on private ambulance 999 calls has soared to £68.7 million – trebling from £22.1 million in 2011/12.

Mark Ainsworth, operations director of South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), said: “Due to a national shortage of paramedics and a year-on-year increase over the last five years in the volume of emergency incidents SCAS is called to, it has been necessary for the trust to employ the services of approved list of private providers in order that we can provide the right level of emergency cover to meet the demands of the local communities we serve.

“Without the private providers we would currently not have enough resources to get to all the patients who need us.”

Alan Lofthouse, Unison lead officer for ambulance workers, accused the government of “short-sightedness” in failing to train and recruit enough paramedics.