A hospital facing legal action by 89 women affected by a cervical smear test scandal has been accused of being 'unduly litigious' in settling some cases.

A High Court judge ruled this week that a legal hearing should take place to decide liability in five cases against Kent and Canterbury Hospital, which admits that eight women may have died as a result of smears being misread. The cases will not set a legal precedent, but are likely to have a significant bearing on claims against other trusts.

Solicitor Sarah Harman accused the trust of being 'extremely unhelpful' and running up a huge bill for the NHS by 'getting in expert after expert when they should be paying up'.

But a trust spokesperson said: 'We have strived to avoid going further with these cases. There is a difference between expert opinion. It may well be that the only means of resolving it is through the court.'

The trust has admitted liability in 60 cases and made 21 settlements. Another 10 offers are currently under consideration.

See News, page 8.