UPDATE: Rural and Remote Medical Services CEO Shane Hatton said while his group supports the closure of the Naas Street Clinic, it's for reasons other than for difficulties in providing doctors, as stated by Hunter New England Local Health District.
"RaRMS has been in discussions with HNELHD representatives for some time about this," Mr Hatton said.
"In RaRMS' opinion, the Naas Street Clinic's closure will not compromise the care available for the small number of patients who were accessing the clinic, given there has been a substantial increase in availability of GPs living and working in Tenterfield than there has been for some years.
"As identified in the review conducted by RaRMS, the wait times of local General Practices in Tenterfield are minimal, and the three to four patients per day who were accessing the Naas Street Clinic will be able to arrange same day appointments with an alternative GP in town, on almost every day of the week.
"Further, it is RaRMS' view, and we have expressed this view to HNELHD on a number of occasions, that closing the clinic will in fact help keep the current GPs in the Tenterfield community, for longer than they may have if the Naas Street Clinic continued to remain open and compete with those local GPs.
"So RaRMS believes that HNELHD's decision to close the Naas Street Clinic will in fact support the local GPs, help keep them in town longer, and still enable patients to access the non-urgent care they require locally."
RaRMS was established in 2001 in response to a GP workforce crisis in north west NSW and has since expanded to the point of managing 13 clinics across rural and remote NSW. Mr Hatton said with close to 18 years' experience providing general practice services in many communities in rural NSW, RaRMS believes it has a sound understanding of the intricacies involved in providing good quality general practice options for rural and remote communities.
"Unfortunately, at times, those intricacies are either overlooked or not understood by others," he said.
While the Naas Street Clinic has closed, RaRMS continues to provide medical coverage at the Tenterfield Community Hospital, engaging two local GP/VMOs (Visiting Medical Officers), along with the continued engagement of a GP/VMO who has been visiting on a regular basis for almost five years.
"Those three RaRMS-supported GP/VMOs provide on-call medical coverage for emergency patients and inpatients as required," Mr Hatton said.
"As HNELHD has alluded to in their statement, provision of quality, sustainable and accessible general practice and hospital-based medical services in small country towns is indeed a partnership between all relevant stakeholders and providers.
"RaRMS welcomes the opportunity to continue to work with Catherine Death from HNELHD and others, to help them better understand and appreciate the intricacies involved in maintaining appropriate general practice in rural communities, so those communities can continue to access the health services they deserve, now and into the future.
"It's also worth mentioning there are some 300 vacancies for GPs across rural and remote NSW, so RaRMS truly thanks the GP/VMOs whom continue to support the Tenterfield Community Hospital, and those in the wider Tenterfield community, and acknowledges the extremely important work that all rural and remote GPs do on a daily basis right across the country."
TUESDAY: Despite local efforts to keep the service open, the Naas Street Clinic is no longer operating leaving patients to seek GP assistance from private doctors in town.
In a statement provided to the Star, Hunter New England Local Health District operations manager for the Tablelands Sector, Catharine Death, said that while HNELHD provides the clinic space, the doctors to man the GP clinic are supplied by the Rural and Regional Medical Service (RaRMS). HNELHD said the clinic was seeing three or four patients a day.
"RaRMS hasn't been able to consistently provide staff, and as such it's been difficult to maintain regular clinic hours," Ms Death said.
"We are partnering with RaRMS to assist them in attracting doctors. We are also working with other GPs in the town to ensure the healthcare needs of the community are met."
Ms Death said Tenterfield is well serviced by GPs and the hospital continues to provide medical services for inpatients and patients who present to the emergency department.
Nurses and doctors also have the support, via Telehealth, of Tamworth Hospital's senior medical officers.
RaRMS has been contacted for comment.