Almost 900 people a year choke to death in situations where first aid could potentially make a difference, while 2,500 suffocate due to a blocked airway, and 29,000 die from heart attacks.
Today, as St John Ambulance launches a new campaign to get more people to learn first aid skills, its survey of 2,000 people finds that 59 per cent would not feel confident trying to save a life.
Meanwhile, almost a quarter (24 per cent) would do nothing if they saw somebody struggling and would either wait for an am-bulance to arrive or hope that a passer-by might know first aid.
Sue Killen, chief executive of St John Ambulance, said: "We believe that anyone who needs first aid should receive it but our latest research shows that's just not happening.
"We can't rely on other people to have the skills – everyone should take the responsibility to learn first aid themselves.
"Armed with this knowledge, we can all be the difference between a life lost and a life saved.
"Around 2,500 people die each year from a blocked airway, but if someone had known the recovery position, lives could have been saved."
The charity has launched a free pocket guide to first aid which maps out what to do in five life-threatening situations. People can get it by texting LIFE to 85010.