The cost of blood will double as a result of the 'mad cow disease' crisis, the NHS Executive has confirmed.

A health service circular says blood prices nationally will rise by£80m to cover the cost of removing white blood cells to avoid any risk of contamination with new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The rise will also cover the cost of destroying UK plasma, importing plasma from the US and increasing blood supplies to meet the government's waiting times initiative.

A new national service agreement for the supply of blood and associated services shows the price of a unit of whole red blood cells will be£79.07 from 1 April.

HSJ inquiries last year found that prices ranged from£30 to£43 per unit of red cells across the UK.

Health authorities have been told to 'ensure trusts are adequately funded to meet the increased cost of blood in 1999-2000'.

The Executive has carried out a 'rebasing' exercise to 'neutralise the financial effects of national pricing and help to protect local services'.

The national agreement is the outcome of work by the Executive and the National Blood Authority on a standard contract for trusts and national prices.

National Service Agreement for the Supply of Blood Components and Associated Services: 1999-2000. www.open.gov.uk/doh/coin.htm