Anne Marie McNally: You Either Empathise And Seek To Tell The Truth Or You Don’t


From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris; Anne Marie McNally

The Cervical Check scandal has rumbled on for months now and at no point along that time-line has Government struck the right chord when it comes to communications on the topic.

Ministers and the Taoiseach have swung wildly like a pendulum from, on one hand appearing to offer the sun moon and stars, to on the other hand being unable to answer simple questions regarding whether or not the US labs in question still have the Cervical Check contracts.

Meanwhile what has been notably absent throughout the whole debacle is any semblance of honest emotional communication.

I don’t mean the piecemeal ‘oh we’ll make sure the women get X, Y and Z’ approach to communications (and it’s worth noting that many of those promises have either not come to fruition or have been railroaded by other interests).

I mean proper and real emotional communication which understands and empathises with the horror of the scandal, not just for the women directly impacted but for every woman out there who has been scared or confused about what this all means for them and their smear experiences.

In the initial stages of the scandal there were the attempts to calm things down by offering free additional smears to anyone who wanted one.

The problem with that is the capacity in the system to deal with such extra demand was simply not there and that is now raising its head as people either struggle to get appointments or find they are waiting an age for results – and during a delay while waiting for a medical result it is inevitable that people will become even more worried about what result they might get.

Instead, had someone in the Departments of both Health and Taoiseach convinced their politicians that the best, nay only, thing to do was to come out and say:

“Yeah, y’know what? This is scary. We’re trying our damndest to get to the bottom of it. Here’s the situation with the labs; here’s what we intend to do with the contracts and the current smears being sent for analysis.

We intend to get to the bottom of how and why this happened and ensure it won’t happen again. In the meantime the following protocols are in place and therefore we can guarantee that the screening process is as robust as is medically possible.”

‘Robust as is medically possible” is a key phrase here because it’s important to understand that despite the (understandable) outrage, the reality is that screening is just that; screening. It is not supposed to be, nor is it ever, 100% accurate.

I could point immediately to a least four close friends who’ve experienced false positives and two false negatives; myself included. These were not failings of the screening process; they are just the realities of any screening programme.

But in failing to deal with the current scandal in an honest and straight-forward way, Government has allowed misinformation and fear to permeate around this particular aspect of women’s health.

I’ve had friends contact me asking me whether they should have fresh smears done. It’s generally accompanied by some variation of ‘what’s going on in there (Leinster House) Amo?’

People are unsure what it all means for them personally. Talking in circles about audits and labs and diagnostic or non-diagnostic is all well and good when talking within the medical community but not when trying to reassure the public that the screening programme is still hugely important; has saved countless lives and will continue to do so unless it is allowed to fail because of poor handling by Government of this current situation.

What has happened, and is happening, to the women directly affected is horrendous. It is possible to acknowledge that whilst simultaneously reassuring people of the sanctity of the system.

Not in a patronising ‘ah it’ll be grand’ way but in a factual and informative way. Let people know where their smears are going. Let people know what the deal is with the US labs and whether or not they are still being used. Let people know the truth.

The Scally report which is currently underway will hopefully provide a lot of the detail but honestly, it feels like it is being used as a delaying tactic by Government when it comes to simply telling the truth.

What is to stop them telling us right now the situation with the labs?

It’s by far the most asked question. Telling us whether or not current smears are still going to the same lab is not going to somehow derail the Scally report.

That element of emotional communication is missing and it’s something that either comes naturally or it doesn’t. You either empathise and seek to tell the truth or you don’t. If everything you do is couched in trying to put a positive spin for yourself on things then you’re never going to be a successful emotional communicator.

And in failing to do so, the Government are failing the women of this country who are now struggling to keep faith in a vital screening system which should never have been undermined in the first place but whose integrity must be above reproach now more than ever.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Wednesday. Follow Anne Marie on twitter: @amomcnally


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22 thoughts on “Anne Marie McNally: You Either Empathise And Seek To Tell The Truth Or You Don’t

  1. Dr.Fart MD

    that monumental douchebag BS commenter Cian is waiting for his chance to jump in and defend the governments response to all this, as he always does, the heartless little shill.

    1. rotide

      Logical reasoned factual posting without resorting to personal insults is heartless shilling now?

      Tell us more Dr Fart, MD.

      1. Dr.Fart MD

        he’s not logical and reasoned, he makes facts up all the time. He’s a shill because the pattern throughout all his comments are defending the establishment no matter how transparently wrong they are. In this case he has defended the Gov. and the HSE in one of the most indefensible acts they’ve partaken in.

          1. Dr.Fart MD

            Jesus, B .. i don’t keep a logbook of his comments. i said recently that it’s unreal that after everything that happened they still use the Texas lab, and he went off on one goin on about how difficult it is to make that change, and that it’s the only place they can send tests. So how does he know how difficult it is? Maybe because he works for the gov., but anyway, the lab in Texas is not the only lab, it’s just the cheapest.

          2. b

            no-one’s expecting you to keep a log book, but the example you gave below just sounds like a genuine difference of opinion where neither is in possession of the full facts.

            just like I could accuse you of making up a fact that the ‘texas lab is the cheapest’. It’s an assertion that you haven’t backed up though

      2. Lush

        Think I have to agree with Rotide.
        I find Cian’s comments are predominantly objective and reasoned; that he tends to steer clear of emotional reactivity and just cites the facts.

      1. Ina.

        It’s about the Danielle Carroll Summer School. How it wasn’t flagged as a Soc. Dem. event, but only Soc. Dem. people were invited to speak. More or less saying that the SD’s shouldn’t have hijacked Carroll’s name if it wasn’t going to be an inclusive general conference with all welcome.

          1. bisted

            …she really is dreadful…every gombeen, sliveen tactic out of the FFer manual and a free run on Broadsheet…you’d think she’d take the trouble to write a decent column here instead of the usual lazy cut-n-paste drivel about whatever bandwagon has passed a few weeks before…

    1. Lilly

      + 1. ‘Drink, arse, feck…. girrrrls.’ Maybe that’s what she means by honest, emotional communication. We have a lot to learn from toddlers and drunks. God I hate the word ‘impacted’.

  2. Ger Mc

    Why are your friends asking you what is going on in Leinster house Amo. I didn’t know you were elected.

  3. Ger Mc

    Is emotional communication something like an inspirational quote on twitter? click like if ya like

  4. Cian

    I agree with the thrust of what Amo says. The government have messed up the communications. Cervical Check have too.

    One of the reasons they didn’t tell all the 221 women about the false tests in 2016 was due to negative press. I’m flabbergasted that they didn’t have a set of prepared press releases.

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