The government spent more than £1bn in preparation for a flu pandemic, it has been disclosed.

Health minister Gillian Merron said spending to date on “pandemic influenza preparedness - not swine flu specific” was about £500m.

“Additional spend committed around the time of the start of the swine flu pandemic takes the amount to over £1bn,” she said in a Commons written reply to Labour MP Paul Flynn.

Last week, Mr Flynn challenged health secretary Andy Burnham over the preparations, which some have criticised as an over-reaction.

“Was the threat of 65,000 British swine flu deaths an unscientific exaggeration that has cost the country dearly, not only financially but in terms of stress and distorted NHS priorities?” he asked.

Mr Burnham defended the government’s response, saying: “We had to take every possible step to keep the country safe through what was declared a world health pandemic, not by this government but by the World Health Organisation.

“We saw the events in Mexico in the spring, followed by the exceptional spike in flu cases in this country in the summer.

“There were understandably high levels of public concern, and I make no apology for making all the necessary preparations to keep the public safe through that. We have come through the pandemic because of the strength of the plans and preparations that this government put in place.”

In another written reply, Ms Merron said nearly 29 million doses of swine flu vaccine had been delivered to the UK by January but refused to put a cost on them as it would “violate confidentiality clauses” with the makers.