Family of Orla Church seeks early introduction of HPV testing

Memory of the latest of the women in CervicalCheck controversy to die would be honoured

The family of Orla Church, the latest of the women caught up in the CervicalCheck controversy to die, has called for the early introduction of HPV testing for cervical cancer as a way of honouring her memory.

Ms Church (54), whose funeral takes place on Tuesday, campaigned passionately in her last years for a switch from smear testing to HPV testing, according to her sister Áine McEneff.

“Through all the research she had done, she knew that HPV testing would be more accurate. She believed in the cervical screening programme but she also wanted to make it better.”

Plans to introduce HPV testing have been delayed as the fallout from the CervicalCheck controversy continues but Minister for Health Simon Harris has promised it will happen this year.


The High Court was due to hear on Tuesday that a settlement had been reached in Ms Church's cases against the HSE and a US testing laboratory, but this has been postponed to allow for her funeral to take place.

Ms Church had sued the HSE and US laboratory Quest Diagnostics over an alleged misinterpretation of her CervicalCheck smears. The defendants had denied her claims.


The case came before the court last week, when Ms Church was named for the first time and it was agreed mediation talks would take place. These were expedited when it became clear her condition was deteriorated; she died last Saturday morning.

Ms Church was tested under CervicalCheck in 2011 and 2014 and both smears came back clear. Ms McEneff said her sister was placed on a 15-month waiting list in the public system in 2015 even though she had symptoms when she went to her GP. She was seen more quickly privately but “they said her smears were clear so she was treated with antibiotics”. Eventually, she was diagnosed with cancer in May 2016.

She said Ms Church, an analyst with the Central Bank, was angry that her test had been misread but was also determined to make a difference. She met Mr Harris, who put her in touch with Dr Peter McKenna, head of the HSE’s women’s health programme, and, out of this, Ms Church collaborated in the preparation of “learning notes” for GPs on cervical cancer.


A planned second meeting with the Minister was cancelled by Mr Harris, according to Ms McEneff, as was a meeting Ms Church, along with CervicalCheck campaigners Vicky Phelan and Stephen Teap, was to hold with Mr Harris last month. The latter meeting has since been rescheduled to the end of January.

Ms Church’s funeral takes place on Tuesday, with the removal of her remains to the Church of Our Lady of Consolation, Donnycarney, arriving at 11.20am for 11.30am requiem Mass, followed by burial in Balgriffin Cemetery.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.