NHS authorities in Yorkshire have defended of a scheme which pays apprentice ambulance drivers less than the minimum wage - just £2.66 an hour.

An advertisement posted last week on the Yorkshire Ambulance Service trust’s website said the organisation was seeking 50 such drivers to provide transport for patients unable to make their way to hospitals.

In return, the apprentices would receive “on the job” training, advice from professionals, £100 pay for 37.5 hours a week and an opportunity to apply for a full-time position after the year-long programme.

Trust spokesman Elaine Gibson said the scheme was no different to any other training arrangement in which people were offered experience while working towards a professional qualification, adding that it had the full support of central Government.

She said: “They would not be working as ‘normal’ staff. Health care and our patients really are our priority and our employees are highly trained.”

The scheme, run in partnership with YH Training Services Ltd, also includes an NVQ Level 2 in Customer Services, a Technical Certificate, as well as key skills such as communication and numeracy.

After completing the 12-month scheme, apprentices have the opportunity to apply for a permanent job within the Trust.