She refused to be “drawn into the detail of these figures” but said there was a “huge national effort” to get equipment to where it is needed.

Asked in a later interview on Radio 4’s Today programme whether the PPE numbers were “exaggerated” because of single counting of gloves, Ms Atkins said: “We are absolutely led by the scientific evidence throughout this and we are being transparent with the public.”

Panorama reported that the Government’s advisory panel on new and emerging respiratory virus threats, known as Nervtag, had said that gowns – one of the items in shortest supply in the UK – should be purchased last June.

Professor John Ashton, a public health expert who has previously criticised the Government’s approach, said the failure to stockpile some items meant NHS staff were working without crucial equipment.

He told the programme: “The consequence of not planning, not ordering kit, not having stockpiles, is that we are sending into the frontline doctors, nurses, other health workers and social care workers, without the equipment to keep them safe.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman said: “This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.

“The Government has been working day and night to battle against coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed at all times to protect our NHS and save lives.”

Asked about the Panorama report that vital items of personal protective equipment (PPE) had been left out of the UK’s stockpile when it was set up in 2009, Ms Atkins told BBC Breakfast: “I’m very, very sorry to hear of that report.

“I think we have, throughout this crisis, been absolutely clear we are working with scientists… to try and ensure that we are dealing with this in a step-by-step way.”

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