The Department of Health had rejected top medical advice about keeping staff safe with protective equipment during a flu pandemic because it was too expensive.

The damning decision was revealed by the Guardian and documents show that the officials who worked under former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told advisors to "reconsider" recommendations that eye protection should be provided to all healthcare staff in contact with flu patients.

However, the advice was found to "substantially increase" the costs of stockpiling and so the advice wasn't followed in full.

READ MORE: Lord Provost of Glasgow City Council appeals for PPE donations

This decision may be partly responsible for the shortage of protective gear in the current coronavirus crisis.

The current health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that tens of millions of gloves and almost two million sets of eye protection have been delivered to the frontline on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Frontline police to receive protective equipment next wee

But the findings uncovered documents that showed officials under his predecessor were reluctant to heed advice on stockpiling. 

Five years ago, the precursor to the Department of Health and Social Care gave its New And Emerging Respiratory Virus Threat Advisory Group (Nervtag) the task to review the UK's stockpiling approach for use in an influenza pandemic.

Nervtag was a group designed to give expert advice to the Government on new virus threats to the UK. 

It had provided "formal recommendations" including “providing eye protection for all hospital, community, ambulance and social care staff who have close contact with pandemic influenza patients".

However, in 2017, the group was told to reconsider its advice due to the "very large incremental cost of adding in eye protection".

READ MORE: Scottish warehouse swamped with PPE deliveries to NHS 'starting to see recovery'The minutes from the meeting said: "A subsequent internal DH health economic assessment has revealed that following these recommendations would substantially increase the cost of the PPE component of the pandemic stockpile four-to six-fold, with a very low likelihood of cost-benefit based on standard thresholds.”

Nervtag followed by changing its official advice.