Swop a story of change for a book


Here’s a new story in our Change the Ending collection. We were delighted that Neil Mackin got in touch and was keen to read the book. From our email contact it was clear Neil had stories to tell so I invited him to swop a story for a book.

If you read this, or any of the other stories and are inspired to write, let us know. We’d be happy to keep the swopping idea going. You’ll find the writer brief, further down the page on a previous blog.

Distant Voices
Neil Mackin

Some clients stay with you. I’m still haunted by Julie.

She was an urgent GP referral, although it still took a month before we could see her. Her dad sat in our consulting room and I remember his deep sobbing and yet plain-spoken calm as he talked about his fears for her. Her mental health was worsening. She was self-harming and frequently suicidal now.

He had hurried home that November Friday evening, tears splurging from the sodden leaves under his feet, wondering. What would be behind the door? Would Julie be OK? Would she be in pain? Or beyond pain?

The inquiry was brief and perfunctory. Yes, the CAMHS team had followed procedure. Julie had been prioritised. We had planned to meet and put together a care package for her the following Monday. But in truth we failed Julie and her family. We were too slow, too bureaucratic and just too late.

The laptop buzzed. It was Jake messaging me to say he needed help. I dived on a video chat, which was automatically recorded, just in case. It was reassuring to know that if I couldn’t pick up his call he’d be passed to my wider team, then the area team and finally a national lifeline team.

Jake was 13 and freaked out by the side-effects of anti-depressants we were trying; a little reassurance was enough. For others, though, that speed of response was critical.

Howls of laughter came down the corridor. The receptionist was showing Kim, our new starter, the old filing room. Kim couldn’t believe the piles of old paper diaries that we used until only two years ago.

Now it’s digital. A central diary, appointments emailed to our clients and notes shared securely with GPs, schools and EPs. It’s much faster and more efficient, with less time wasted writing and answering letters, but the move to online consultations has been the real boon.

Just a few minutes’ online chat with lower risk cases when it’s needed has saved hours in the consultation room, which can be used for urgent, high-risk cases.

I still wonder whether it would have been enough to save Julie. I hope so.

Neil works as an Analytics Director helping the public sector exploit data and insight as well as a dad to three daughters, two of which are CAMHS service users. He is writing in a personal capacity.