The couple’s retirement is bittersweet as the Glen Innes GP clinic closes in the northern tablelands of New South Wales

The closure of a GP clinic in a New England town has precipitated change that will see some residents relocate to access medical treatment.

Doctor Tom Bennett and his wife Carmel Bennett, a registered nurse, have kept their Glen Innes clinic open to help the town deal with a widespread shortage of GPs, despite the retirement age.

Now 70, Ms Bennett said she could no longer ignore her age.

“How long do you keep working?” she says.

“How much of your life do you spend doing this when no one else really cares what’s going on?

“I feel sorry for the people we leave behind and for the doctors we leave behind because they work so hard.

Tom and Carmel Bennett are ready for retirement.(Provided: Carmel Bennett)

Closure of clinics forces change

The couple said that after nearly 30 years with TR Bennett Medical Services, many of their patients now have to travel to Tamworth, Inverell, Armidale and Uralla to get a GP.

After they leave, the city will have approximately seven full-time equivalent physicians in the other three GP practices to serve a population of approximately 8,873 people.

Dr Bennett said the shortage of medical personnel has had a huge impact on local doctors.

Glen Innes Mayor Rob Banham said trying to attract and keep doctors in town was “really difficult” and an ongoing problem for the community.

For the past five years, the Bennetts have tried to sell the firm.

The practice is closing as the NSW government pledges to boost its Isolated Patient Travel and Accommodation Assistance (IPTAAS) scheme.

main street with old clock tower and car on the street
The district of Glen Innes is home to more than 8,000 people, but Ms Bennett says many of their patients now have to travel for hours to see a doctor.(ABC New England: Jen Ingall)

The scheme will nearly double discounts for people in regional and rural areas who need to travel for specialist treatment, but does not include GP visits.

NSW Health said the health budget and increased government support for the industry fell within the purview of the federal government.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said in a statement that “access to GP services should not be restricted to those who live in our largest cities”.

“Regional GPs do so much to protect and serve local communities, including many who continue to work into their final years because there is no alternative.”

He said Labor had committed $146m to fund more doctors in Australian regions and countryside.

Glen Innes Severn Council will host a morning tea to thank the Bennetts for their service on Friday July 1.

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