The government has defended its plan for tackling the coronavirus outbreak after reports emerged of frontline NHS workers lacking sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).

On Saturday (April 11), Home Secretary Priti Patel said "I'm sorry if people feel there have been failings," when pressed by journalists on reports of frontline staff treating people infected by the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Earlier today, Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said she was frequently fielding calls from nurses saying they did not have enough PPE.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Dame Donna said: "What we are hearing from nurses on a daily basis - I've got emails in my inbox and calls daily - is that they don't have the protection available that they need.

"It is tantamount on this Government to give health care workers the right equipment so they can go out and look after their patients.

"Often they haven't got gowns. This cannot be right.

"We have 74,000 confirmed cases and therefore we will need equipment to care for these individuals."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously confirmed 19 NHS workers had now lost their lives after contracting Covid-19.

After being asked twice if she would apologise to NHS staff and their families over the lack of "necessary PPE", Patel said on Saturday:

"I'm sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that.

"But at the same time, we are in an unprecedented global health pandemic right now.

"It is inevitable that the demand and the pressures on PPE and demand for PPE are going to be exponential. They are going to be incredibly high."

The news came after the Department of Health said a total of 9,875 people had died in hospital in the UK after testing positive for coronavirus as of 5pm on Friday, up by 917 from the same point on Thursday.

Meanwhile, researchers at Oxford University working on a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus said they were "cautiously optimistic" their labours would not be in vain.

Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, is leading a team of researchers in the development of a vaccine that would protect the world against coronavirus.

In an interview with The Times, the professor said they have already created a potential vaccine that is due to begin human trials within two weeks.

It is understood that developing a vaccine within a year to 18 months would be considered unbelievably fast by Government scientists and that having one available for use across the world by the middle of next year would be seen as a remarkable achievement.

Gilbert said the autumn timeframe is "just about possible if everything goes perfectly".

She claimed she is "80 per cent" confident of the success of a vaccine she and her colleagues are working on.

She explained the team is planning studies worldwide, where lockdowns are at different stages, in the hope that that could accelerate the clinical trial process.

"If one of those (places) turns out to have a high rate of virus transmission then we will get our efficacy results very quickly, so that is one strategy for reducing the time," she said.

In order for the vaccine to be distributed in the autumn, Gilbert says the Government will need to start production before it is proven to work.