THERE was an "epidemic" of hepatitis in Bournemouth patients with haemophilia during the 1970s, it has been revealed.

The minutes of a meeting from 1974 allegedly reveals Department of Health officials 'ignored people falling ill with hepatitis' during the decade, allowing the contaminated blood scandal to continue for years.

New documents show that senior medics were aware that haemophiliacs were being given imported blood products that were making them sick with hepatitis, it is claimed.

But, instead of raising the alarm and stopping the spread of contaminated blood, officials said they hoped imported blood would not get "a bad name".

As a result, contaminated batches continued to be given to innocent victims throughout the 1970s and 80s, with the vast majority of patients not told the blood product - known as Factor VIII - was so risky.

The contaminated blood scandal has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

It left thousands of patients infected with hepatitis and HIV and caused many early deaths.

Most of those infected had the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia and relied on regular injections of clotting agent Factor VIII, which was made from pooling human blood plasma.

Britain was running low on supplies of Factor VIII so imported products from the US, where prison inmates and others with "risky" lifestyles were paid cash for giving blood.

The first UK-wide probe - the Infected Blood Inquiry, which is due to sit again this week - has heard that more than 25,000 people could have been affected.

The new documents released under the Freedom of Information Act were obtained by campaigner Jason Evans, whose father died in 1993 having contracted hepatitis and HIV.

They focus on a meeting attended by 50 directors of UK haemophilia centres and an official from the Department of Health, held in Oxford on November 1 1974.

During the meeting, a Dr Craske from the public health laboratory at Poole Hospital, reports an "epidemic of hepatitis A and B" in haemophilia patients in Bournemouth "who had received one particular batch of commercial Factor VIII".

Of the patients, six had contracted hepatitis A and three hepatitis B, he said, adding that, as far as he knew, this was the first record of hepatitis A "being transmitted to patients" by one batch of Factor VIII.

The ensuing discussion saw Professor James Stewart from Middlesex Hospital say there was no need to withdraw material contaminated with hepatitis B as it could be given to patients who had the antibody for hepatitis B or who had had hepatitis previously.

Dr Rosemary Biggs, from Oxford, told the meeting "it was not yet proved that the commercial Factor VIII was much more dangerous from the point of view of causing hepatitis".

As a result of the experts choosing to ignore the warnings, a broad range of patients continued to be given contaminated blood products for at least another decade.

Mr Evans, who is suing the government for negligence, was initially refused minutes of the meeting by University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust.

The Information Commissioner stepped in and ordered their release, but Mr Evans then realised two of the pages – containing the key evidence – were missing. He went back to the Information Commissioner who ordered their release. The NHS trust then told Mr Evans pages had been omitted due to "an administrative error".

Mr Evans, who runs the Factor 8 group, said: "The fact that there could be this idea to keep known hepatitis-infected Factor VIII in circulation, as early as 1974, will be deeply upsetting to victims and families."

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesman said: "We are committed to being open and transparent with the inquiry and have waived the usual legal privileges to assist the process."