HAEMOPHILIACS faced fresh anguish yesterday after being left out of health minister Susan Deacon's compensation settlement for patients who contracted hepatitis C from NHS blood products.

Production problems at one of the main manufacturing centres for recombinant Factor VIII - developed to protect them from blood-borne infections - mean that they will have to revert to a plasma-based clotting factor.

Although this has been treated to inactivate known viruses like hepatitis and HIV, there remains a fear - reinforced by the emergence of variant CJD - that other pathogens as yet unidentified could be present in the plasma version.

Mr Philip Dolan, chairman of the Scottish Haemophilia Forum, said the plasma version was imported from America and Germany, where there was supposedly no vCJD, but he said: ''How can we be sure there is no contamination.''

In order to eke out the reduced supplies of recombinant Factor VIII from the two Californian plants where it is made, haemophiliacs over 30 have been asked to take the plasma version.

Mr Dolan said he was ''disappointed'' that few of 317 Scottish haemophiliacs infected with hepatitis C would benefit from the new deal announced by the health minister.

Ms Deacon said health service lawyers had been ordered to settle claims by Scottish victims who contracted hepatitis C after the Consumer Protection Act came into force in 1988, in line with a ruling by the High Court in England.

Most haemophiliacs were infected by that time, before Scottish plasma was being heat-treated at temperatures high enough to kill the virus.

Only about 20 people - patients who were infected with whole blood - will benefit from the settlement.

''I welcome the fact that she has recognised the principle of compensating people who were infected in this way, but I wonder if this is just to avoid the whole question of hepatitis C going through the courts,'' said Mr Dolan.