An Appeal Court decision that three women with cervical cancer should be compensated after the screening service at Kent and Canterbury Hospital missed abnormal smears is unlikely to have a major impact on the national screening programme, as previously feared.

The Department of Health backed an appeal by East Kent health authority against a lower court ruling, saying it believed the original judgement could 'impose standards on the screening programme that could not be met' and would affect its management and operation.

But on Tuesday, Lord Woolf ruled that no screening programme could be 100 per cent accurate.

He upheld the earlier judgment on the grounds that in the case of the three women, it would have been reasonable for screeners to have spotted the cancers or at least demanded more tests.

The judgement was welcomed by the DoH, which said: 'The judgement confirmed the Bolam test - the legal test for judging the care which should be provided by the average reasonable competent practitioner - does apply to screening.'

The appeal has cost more than£500,000. Damages for the women will be set at a later date.

Last week the Royal College of Pathologists delivered a largely favourable report on general laboratory services at the hospital.

Review of the Histopathology Reporting Services of Kent and Canterbury and Thanet Healthcare Trust .

01304-201624. Free.