The deaths of eight women have been linked to smear-test blunders by the cervical cytology screening service run by Kent and Canterbury Hospitals trust.

A final report on four years of under-reporting of smear test abnormalities also says 30 women needed hysterectomies when cancer or pre-cancerous changes were spotted after the problems came to light at the end of 1995.

Health minister Baroness Jay said last week: 'These women and their families have been badly betrayed. We intend to do our utmost to make sure it does not happen again.'

Cervical cancer screening is no longer carried out at Kent and Canterbury Hospital. A shake-up of the national screening programme has also been carried out.

Kent and Canterbury Hospitals trust set up an internal inquiry into its screening service at the end of 1995. It also ordered the re-examination of 91,000 slides taken since 1990 to identify women given 'false-negative' results.

An independent inquiry, chaired by Sir William Wells, later concluded that poor management was to blame for many of the problems, and found that repeated warnings about understaffing, poor training and poor morale at the cytology laboratory had been ignored.

Former trust chair James Bird resigned and former chief executive Edward Pearson took early retirement from the trust as Sir William started work last June.

The independent inquiry also expressed concern about the time taken to complete the re-screening programme and said a final report on its outcome should be published.

This report, published last week, says 94 per cent of women involved in the programme were cleared immediately and another 4 per cent cleared after further investigation.

But almost 300 women needed treatment for abnormalities, 15 needed hysterectomies and two died of cancer of the cervix. Additional deaths and hysterectomies were uncovered by examining other data.

The report has been billed as the 'final reckoning' in the scandal, but the trust is still trying to follow up the cases of 1,305 women. More than 100 women have still to be traced.

Trust chief executive Jim Smith also confirmed last week that 77 personal injury claims had been received, of which 10 had been settled. He added that 'every effort' was being made to settle cases quickly and staff were 'very conscious that this should never have happened'.

But Sarah Harman, a solicitor representing a number of the women, called last week for the hospital to deal quickly with compensation claims and set up a fund for victims.

A report on the cervical cytology screening service at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. 1988. Free.