IN the rural village of Barraba, residents who have lived there for years still can't get on the books at the local doctor's surgery.
Neither of the two doctors live in the town and each is on a fortnightly rotation.
At the same time patients wait to be seen, the doctor is stretched to the limit, required to be available to the hospital's emergency department at all times.
Toni Morrissey is an aged care worker, she has to take a 100km round-trip to Manilla, or a two-hour slog to Tamworth, to see a doctor.
"It's terrible really, I moved here seven years ago and the books were closed so we had to go elsewhere to find a doctor," she said.
"We didn't know what to do, my husband has had cancer and I'm happy with my doctor in Manilla, she's wonderful and saved my husband's life, but we still have to travel 50km one-way to get there.
"We are a town of 2500 people, but how do you close your books to a small town? I can't comprehend that."
The federal government is responsible for funding GP services, while the state tries to find solutions to medical workforce shortages. For the past two years, a 24/7 on-call visiting medical officer has been available at the Barraba Multipurpose Service (MPS).
When a doctor isn't available, Barraba MPS relies on doctors in neighbouring towns or Tamworth hospital ED to provide support over video or the phone to staff, Hunter New England Health (HNEH) Peel Sector acting general manager Kylie Whitford said.
"More than 98 per cent of all Barraba ED patients are treated within their benchmark waiting time," she said.
"The majority of presentations are non-urgent and semi-urgent patients."
Resident Greg Forder said calls for help appear to be falling on deaf ears.
"I find the situation totally unsatisfactory, we are 45km from our nearest town at Manilla one way, and then Bingara 60km north," he said.
"I have lung issues and can't go out to the cold to go to the ED at all hours, but not only that, the ED is just that, it should not be an extension of the practice for people to go there for a consult, it's really a catch-22."
Regional Health Minister Dr David Gillespie said the big issue isn't an undersupply, but an unequal distribution of doctors.
"Over the past decade the rate of increase in GP numbers in Australia has been two-and-a-half times greater than that of the general population, with the majority of growth in GPs numbers in major capital cities and metropolitan areas," he said.
"I'm keen to ensure we have the right suite of programs to encourage junior doctors, GP registrars and qualified GPs to train and work in rural communities."
The Barraba Medical Centre declined to comment.
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