Inaugural RCPI Patient Advocate Medal awarded to Laura Brennan

A Special Tribute

The Patient Advocate Medal was presented to Laura Brennan at today's launch of the HSE HPV vaccination programme for 2018/2019 for her dedication and tireless work in support of the HPV vaccination over the past year, despite her own personal experience of living with terminal cervical cancer.

We have presented Laura with this award today to publicly thank her and to acknowledge all the outstanding work and time that she has given to advocating for increased awareness of HPV cancers and for her constant efforts to improve the uptake of the HPV vaccine. What Laura has done is immeasurable. The increased uptake rate of 65% announced today shows that efforts to raise awareness of the importance of the vaccine are working and Laura has greatly contributed to that.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the patient voice. It is the strongest and most important voice we have in working to improve our health services. It is essential for doctors to listen to patients which is key to ensuring we provide the best care and outcomes possible. We know how important our communication is and how valuable every contact we have with our patients is.

Professor Mary Horgan

RCPI President

The first award for patient advocacy 

This award is a very special addition to the historical awards given by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland every year in recognition of excellence and achievements in medicine and now in recognition of advocacy for the health of the population.

As a doctor, as a Consultant in Infectious Diseases and also, as a mother, I am appealing today to parents to please have your daughter vaccinated in the upcoming schools programme. It could save her life. There are still 90 deaths in Ireland each year due to cervical cancer. An uptake rate of 95% could prevent those deaths. We have an opportunity to eliminate HPV infection. It is a safe and effective vaccine and prevents against cervical and other HPV-related cancers.

Prof Mary Horgan

Extending the vaccination programme to include boys

We look forward to the introduction of the vaccine for boys to the schools programme for the next schedule. Vaccinating boys and girls is the best opportunity we have to eliminate HPV-related cancers in Ireland.

While the HPV vaccine is currently offered to girls to protect them against cervical cancer, it is essential that boys are also protected from cancers, such as those of the head and neck that are often caused by HPV infection. There is an approximate 20% increase in oropharyngeal (throat) cancers. Nearly 50% of this rise in oropharyngeal disease is directly related to HPV, with almost 80% of those occurring in men, yet there is little awareness of the risks to men.


Parents need to inform themselves about the risks associated with HPV infection in boys by asking their GPs and referring to reliable websites, such as the World Health Organisation and accredited HSE websites.

Prof Mary Horgan

Human Papillomavirus

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide. It affects 8 out of 10 people (80%), both male and female at some point during their lives, but the majority of them will not have any symptoms and will clear the virus spontaneously.

The virus can cause genital warts in others while persistent infection with certain HPV types can cause cancer of the cervix, cancer of the mouth and throat as well as other genital cancers, such as vaginal, vulval, penile, and anal cancers. It is estimated that HPV infection is responsible for up to 5% of all cancers worldwide.

Over 200 million doses of the HPV vaccine, have been given globally. The HPV vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in both males and females. Some 20 countries have now introduced the vaccination for boys, including Australia where the uptake rate is up to 90%. In Ireland, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee has recommended that boys receive this vaccine.