Thursday 21 February 2019

'A special lady with the best sense of humour' - tributes flood in for CervicalCancer activist

The 'quiet campaigner' passed away surrounded by her family

CervicalCheck campaigner Orla Church passed away at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin. Photo: Google Maps
CervicalCheck campaigner Orla Church passed away at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin. Photo: Google Maps
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Orla Church, one of the women caught up in the CervicalCheck controversy, has died days after the Health Service Executive and a US laboratory agreed to settle her legal action.

Ms Church, 54, was one of the 221 women with cervical cancer found to have received incorrect smear tests during a clinical audit of past tests by the CervicalCheck screening programme.

She was told last May that her cancer was terminal. In her final months, she campaigned behind the scenes for better services for the women impacted by the screening failures.

Ms Church, from Beaumont in north Dublin, died yesterday morning at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin, surrounded by members of her family. Her sister, Aine McEneff, paid tribute to her last night: "Orla was very articulate, she did so much research on the issue. She kept in touch with all sorts of people and her whole aim was to promote HPV testing," she said. "She was a private woman, she organised us all, all of her nieces and nephews were like her own children."

In her own case, Ms Church had two smear tests in 2011 and 2014 which found no abnormalities. She was referred to hospital in December 2015 with pelvic pain and was later diagnosed with cervical cancer when a tumour of over 4cms showing up in a scan.

After the CervicalCheck controversy broke, Ms Church became involved in campaigning and advocacy but maintained a low profile. She worked closely with Dr Peter McKenna, of the Health Service Executive, on guidance notes for doctors and also, with the Irish Cancer Society. She joined the 221+ patient support group for women impacted by CervicalCheck. Listeners to Joe Duffy's radio show may remember an interview she gave to Joe Duffy's RTE Radio programme last year, although she did not give full name at the time.

Ms Church sued the Health Service Executive and the US laboratory Quest Diagnostics over the alleged misinterpretation of her smear tests. The defendants denied her claims.

She was in the High Court last week before Mr Justice Kevin Cross, who acknowledged the "extreme urgency" of her case. Mr Justice Cross sent the case for mediation. Talks took place on Thursday and it is understood that agreement was reached on a settlement and the case was to return to court on Tuesday.

However, Ms Church's health deteriorated. She was hospitalised and died shortly before 7am yesterday.

Vicky Phelan, who exposed the CervicalCheck controversy after settling her own legal action, tweeted last night: " So very sad to hear this news today. Deepest sympathies to Orla's family."

Ms Church's solicitor, Caoimhe Haughey, also warmly remembered her late client: "I had the great pleasure of meeting Orla last year and I was struck by her immediately. I had heard her on the Joe Duffy show and I was riveted by how articulate and knowledgeable she was. Orla and I worked together over the last couple of weeks in relation to her legal action.

"She was a special lady with great foresight and understanding. She made me laugh but kept me on my toes at the same time. She smiled with her eyes and had the best of sense of humour notwithstanding the inevitability of what she was facing. I am very privileged and honoured to have known her. I wish to extend my deepest sympathies to her parents, her siblings Ian, Una, Eimear, Aine and David and all her nieces and nephews who were clearly the world to Orla."

Ms Church will repose at Kirwan Funeral Home, Fairview Strand on Monday and will be buried on Tuesday at Balgriffin Cemetery following funeral Mass in Donnycarney.

Sunday Independent

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