The NHS has said it has enough protective clothing and equipment for doctors, nurses and other staff in part due to stockpiling during planning for a no-deal Brexit last year.
NHS chief operating officer Amanda Pritchard said on Tuesday there was enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff but that distribution problems meant some hospitals were suffering shortages.
It comes as doctors and nurses raise concerns about having to treat coronavirus patients without adequate equipment.
Pritchard told the Commons health and social care committee: “We have been assured that there is sufficient supply available nationally.
“So we’ve had the benefit of being able to release our influenza stockpile and also from the EU exit stockpile.
“However, we have been aware of some local distribution problems so we don’t necessarily have the kit in the right place.
“So what we have done today is set up a dedicated helpline so that, if people have got local issues that they need and immediate response to, they have got somewhere to go and we can then make sure the stock is being moved from where it is to where it needs to be.”
NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens said the UK has 28m of “the most intense” face masks but stressed production of equipment needs to be “ramped up” as the outbreak gets worse.
“We are going to need to ramp up production for gowns in particular, some of the face masks,” he said.
“Given that this is not a flash in the pan - this is not something that is going to be resolved in a fortnight or a month, the coronavirus pandemic is going to be with us for months to come - we are going to have to ramp up domestic production on those items as well.”
Stevens said he wanted NHS staff to be confident they have the kit they need, and said the service was guided by Public Health England (PHE) advice.
“We all believe that staff do have a right to expect the sort of protection that would give them confidence, so part of the question, the dialogue with PHE, is ‘what is reasonable’ in A&E departments and other parts of the hospital,” he said.
Sign up now to get The Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing, by email.
Stevens also revealed the NHS has nearly 7,000 ventilators, with 3,799 more expected to be operational in “the next several weeks”.
But this may still not be enough after health secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS would need “many times more” than 5,000 to help the worst-hit coronavirus patients breathe.
The government is in talks with manufacturers like Unipart, Rolls-Royce and JCB to see if they can switch production to making ventilators, which will be crucial in the fight against the outbreak.
Stevens said there were a total of 6,699 adult mechanical ventilators in the NHS, as well as a further 750 paediatric mechanical ventilators for children which can be repurposed.
There are also an estimated 691 in the private sector and 35 in the Ministry of Defence, bringing the total to 8,175, he said.
He added: “For some weeks now we have been out preparing and procuring our mechanical ventilators, and can see a line of sight over the next several weeks to another 3,799.”