Northern Ireland is set to receive five million items of personal protective equipment from London ahead of the expected coronavirus surge.
The announcement from Health Secretary Matt Hancock that he has agreed with the Northern Ireland Executive to “immediately” provide five million items of PPE to meet their needs came amid rows in the region over the issue.
Stormont finance minister Conor Murphy faced questions over a deal with the Dublin government for PPE which he announced had been placed.
Ireland’s Department of Health said that no joint order has been placed for PPE from China in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Executive.
A spokeswoman said: “We are ready to discuss any area where we can co-operate effectively, North and South, including on procurement of PPE and critical supplies.
“In relation to procurement, while it has not so far proved possible to place a joint order in the context of what is an increasingly challenging international environment, discussions between procurement teams are ongoing and active, and it remains our intention to continue to co-operate in this area.”
Mr Murphy insisted he had agreed with Dublin to place the order, but that had fallen through when supply lines have been bought over by others.
“We sent them our requirements on Friday night,” he said.
“We have struggled all week to keep that order in place until yesterday afternoon when we learned that those supply lines have been bought over by others.”
Arrangements had been made for payment before the order fell through, he said.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill criticised health minister Robin Swann, claiming he had been “too slow” to act over the Covid-19 threat.
And the Royal College of Nursing asked for reassurances over PPE supplies, adding the body is awaiting legal advice on what steps to take if guarantees cannot be met.
Mr Swann has repeatedly insisted that there are “significant” supplies of PPE.
However concerns have been voiced about the availability of specialist respiratory masks, with the chief executive of the Belfast health trust Dr Cathy Jack telling the health committee spoke of challenges securing FFP3 masks.
“Of course staff deserve to have the right type of PPE and get it when they need it,” Mr Swann said.
“We do have significant stores of PPE in place, we’ve over 22.5million gloves, nearly seven million aprons and over a million items of eye protection but couldn’t we do with more, of course we could.
“There is not a country in the world that has enough PPE in stock.
“We are aggressively pursuing all feasible routes, nationally, internationally and local.
“This is an absolute priority for both me as well as my executive colleagues.”
The rifts came on a day when the largest number of deaths of Covid-19 patients was confirmed.
Twelve deaths were announced by the Public Heath Agency on Friday, bringing the region’s total to 48 with 904 confirmed cases in the region.
Earlier concerns were expressed with the first batch of PPE equipment which arrived in Dublin from China with images posted online showing gowns with three-quarter length sleeves, leaving arms exposed.
Mr Swann warned he would not accept any inferior materials.