"BE responsible when you shop" is the message from health bosses and the Government this afternoon as efforts to keep supplies flowing across the UK during the coronavirus pandemic continue.

George Eustice, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, made the plea during the daily Downing Street press conference adding that there was no shortage of food in the country.

It follows weeks of panic buying at supermarkets across the country, which has seen £1billion of food stockpiled at people's homes.

Stephen Powis, national medical director at NHS England, said people should not stockpile, adding: "Panic buyers should be ashamed of the impact on NHS".

He referred to a heartfelt video posted online by a critical care nurse Dawn Bilbrough, from York, left in tears after being unable to find anything to buy to eat at the end of a 48-hour shift.

Mr Powis continued: "Frankly we should all be ashamed that that has to happen. It is unacceptable.

"These are the very people we will all need to look after perhaps us or our loved ones in the weeks.

"It is critical that by not stockpiling, by not selfishly shopping, that our health workers are able to get access to what they need too."

In last three weeks, shelves have been stripped of essential items, such as toilet rolls, hand sanitiser, paracetamol, meat, fruit and vegetables as shoppers ignore pleas not to stockpile.

It has led to supermarkets having to bring in limits on the amount of some items sold, with golden shopping hours introduced to help the elderly and NHS and care workers.

Stores are also taking on thousands of temporary and permanent workers to deal with the increased demand from the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Eustice  said there was no shortage of food in the country amid the coronavirus crises, with manufacturers having increased production by 50%.

He added that people buying more than they needed meant key NHS workers fighting the disease were faced with empty shelves when they tried to buy food at the end of their shifts.

He said: "The crucial thing is that we need people to calm down and only buy what they need and to think of others when they are purchasing.

"Buying more than you need means that others may be left without.

"As you shop think of those who are finishing their late shifts and need to pop to their local shops."

His words were echoed by Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, who added there was "plenty of food" in the supply chain. 

She said: "There has been a whole list of issues raised with government which have been quickly solved - including restrictions on food delivery times.

"The issue is around people and lorries, so getting that food right into the front line onto our shelves, which is why we've seen some shortages,” she said.

"There is a billion pounds’ more food in people’s houses than there was three weeks ago, so we should make sure we eat some of it."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is speaking to the leading supermarket chains to see what the Government can do to ensure the shelves remain stocked and the supply chains can cope with the demand.

The Road Haulage Association has also welcomed an announcement by the Department of Transport to relax the working hours for drivers for a month from March 23 until April 21.

Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Asda have announced a golden shopping hour for NHS and social care workers, so they can join older and vulnerable shoppers in having less competition for restocked shelves.

Sainsbury’s said from next week health and social care staff will be able to shop between 8am and 9am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, alongside elderly and vulnerable shoppers.

It is also consolidating its opening hours in its main stores from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Saturday, in order to be able focus on restocking shelves. Sunday opening, Sainsbury’s Local and petrol station opening times will stay the same.

Chief executive Mike Coupe urged customers to take simple measures to reduce risk by standing one metre away from each other and consider paying with card instead of cash.

“Please also treat our colleagues and other customers with kindness and respect,” he said.

“These are unprecedented circumstances and our colleagues are being asked to come to work every day while so many others are being asked to stay at home.

“We all need them to keep coming to work to feed the nation – a small thank you goes a really long way.”

Meanwhile, Morrisons is taking on up to 500 staff from Marie Curie and CLIC Sargent charity shops to help the elderly and vulnerable in its supermarkets.

They will be working alongside Morrisons’ army of community champions who currently work with local charities and community groups.

The Co-op is donating £1.5 million of essential food items to charity FareShare’s network of food banks and community groups, while Asda is giving £5 million to FareShare and the Trussell Trust.

The supermarkets have also begun rewarding staff for working through the crisis.

Tesco has introduced a 10% bonus for its staff paid hourly while Asda is giving employees an extra week’s pay.

And to thank NHS workers and community groups for their hard work, Lidl is giving away thousands of bunches of Mother’s Day flowers.