The NHS Litigation Authority is backing an appeal by East Kent health authority against a High Court judgement which, it claims, jeopardises the whole national cervical screening programme.

The HA is appealing a High Court judgement against it in three cases in which it denied negligence. More than£1m has been paid in compensation to 53 women who suffered as a result of poor cervical cancer screening standards at Kent and Canterbury Hospital.

The NHS Litigation Authority has agreed to pay the women's legal costs for the appeal and to seek an early date for the hearing, though this is unlikely to be before next year.

The authority is backing the appeal as it believes the High Court ruling imposes standards on the screening programme which are impossible to meet.

The judge ruled that cytoscreeners are not subject to the Bolam test for medical negligence, which applies to doctors. Under this test, if a responsible body of medical opinion holds that a practice was not negligent, the plaintiff loses.

Following a refinement of the Bolam test, the judge held that the views of the HA's expert witnesses did not stand up to logical analysis.

The HA will argue that both these decisions were wrong and the judgement failed to take account of the 5-15 per cent of false negatives in the process.