Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

RECENTLY, while on duty at the weekend, I had - for legal reasons which I need not detail - to call upon the services of a social worker. I therefore dialled the number for out-of-hours referrals to the social services.

'Hello,' said a recorded voice. 'You have reached the Emergency Duty Team. The office is only open out of office hours. It is now closed. Thank you and goodbye.'

Did I detect a subtle note of malicious triumph in that thank you and goodbye? I rather fancy I did.

What was I to do now? It was an emergency, and it was out of hours. I was stumped, but then I remembered the fax machine. I scrawled a note and tried to send it to the Emergency Duty Team's fax number. After a few minutes of fruitless ringing, my fax machine printed the following report: `No contestant'.

I phoned a neighbouring borough's social services to ask for help and advice. 'You could always get the police to go round,' they said.

Surely the police had better things to do than that -victim support, for example? Much later in the day, I succeeded in getting through. I complained about the time it took.

'What number did you use, doctor?' asked the social worker. I told him.

'Oh no,' he said. 'That's just for the public. You should have used the professionals' number.'

'I didn't know what it was,' I said. 'No, we haven't told anyone yet,' he replied. 'But we're going to soon.'

I compose many letters of complaint in my head, but rarely get round to sending them. On this occasion, however, I did write to the director of social services himself. …

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