Thursday 21 February 2019

'Courageous' CervicalCheck campaigner dies days after HSE and US lab agree to settle her legal action

'Courageous' CervicalCheck campaigner Orla Church has died
'Courageous' CervicalCheck campaigner Orla Church has died
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

ORLA Church, one of the 221 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.

Ms Church, from Beaumont in north Dublin, died yesterday morning at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin, surrounded by members of her family. 

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 who were impacted by the screening failures.

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.

Ms Church advocated for promoting awareness of cervical cancer and services for women who were caught up in the CervicalCheck controversy.

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 also gave an interview to Joe Duffy’s RTE Radio programme, although not giving her full name.

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

The defendants denied the 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 an agreement was reached that is due to be ratified by the High Court next week.

However, Ms Church’s health had deteriorated last week. She was hospitalised and died shortly before 7am yesterday.

Tributes have been paid to Ms Church this evening and she has been remembered for her courage.

Vicky Phelan, whose court case brought the CervicalCheck scandal to light, has spoken of the importance of Ms Church's campaigning.

She said: "So very sad to hear this news today. Deepest sympathies to Orla's family.

"What many people won't know is that Orla campaigned fiercely for better screening for women, like her, with adenocarcinoma, a more aggressive form of cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine."

Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died from cervical cancer, said: "Very sad to hear of Orla's passing.

"Another brave woman leaves us on the back of this #cervicalcheckdebacle. My deepest sympathies to all of Orla's family."

221Plus, the CervicalCheck patient support group also paid tribute to Ms Church this evening.

The group said in a statement: "We have just learned with great sadness of the death of Orla Church, a member of the 221+ CervicalCheck Patient Support Group.

"We offer deepest sympathy to her entire family and friends at this very difficult and sad time. Many of us got to meet and know Orla in the past months and she was just such a wonderfully courageous, strong and inspiring person.

"She campaigned tirelessly on behalf of all us affected by the CervicalCheck debacle and we are and will continue to be so grateful to her for this outstanding work.

"All of us in the 221+ CervicalCheck Patient Support Group will be thinking about Orla's family in the coming days and will be available to assist them in any way we can."

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

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