An Overview Of The New Zealand Healthcare System

The New Zealand healthcare system is among the most efficient in the world. New Zealanders can seek health care services, either through  private providers or the public health system. The public system offers free medical services thanks to government subsidies. The free services are only offered to eligible persons, including New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. Ineligible travellers coming from overseas are advised to obtain a travel medical insurance policy. The public health system is operated on a community-based model entrenched through:

  • Primary Health Organizations (PHOs)
  • District Health Boards (DHBs)
  • Primary Health Care (PHC)

The DHBs receive financing backing from the central government. The districts are tasked with providing crucial health care funding and disability services. The PHOs are broadly defined as localized primary health care delivery and coordinating units. The umbrella encompasses health practitioners like doctors, nurses and community health workers. The PHC provides a range of hospital services, including those not funded by the government. The services supported by the programme include community health services, general practice and mobile nursing.

The private health care system in New Zealand brings together primary care providers, specialist service providers and private hospitals. Small entities like medical and emergency clinics are also part of the programme. These providers offer both elective treatment and non-urgent or critical care. The services include: recuperative care, general surgery, specialist procedures, radiology and private testing laboratories. Compared to the public health care system, the private health providers often operate outside normal hours and offer accelerated services.

Both public and private healthcare hospitals in New Zealand accept health insurance. The largest health insurance in the country is the non-profit organization called the Southern Cross Health Insurance. This organisation plays a pivotal role in supplementing the health care services provided by public health organisations. People with the cover enjoy quicker medical services, broader treatment choices and a pathway to avoid long queues common in public hospitals. The insurer also prides itself on paying more health claims than any other insurer in New Zealand.

Overall, the country’s health care framework is modeled on the New Zealand Health Strategy for 2016. This comprehensive strategy was developed in conjunction with governance experts, health sector leaders and independent reports. Public participation was also instrumental in crafting the two-part report constituting; the Roadmap of Action and Future Direction. The roadmap lists 27 areas targeted by the strategy over the ensuing 10 years. It then goes on to outline the direction the country’s health system will take from 2016 to 2026. The areas covered include:

  • Challenges and opportunities
  • Strategic themes
  • Impact of culture and values

Finding a General Practitioner

The first interaction patients look for when seeking non-emergency healthcare is that of the General Practitioner (GP). Patients seeking service from GPs or family doctors can walk into the doctor’s office or book an appointment. Besides treatment, the doctors are able to provide medical advice and/or refer patients to a specialist. Medical specialists operate in both public and private healthcare institutions. Most doctors working in private practice are stationed in registered medical centres.

Households with low incomes can also save health care expenses by obtaining a Community Services Card (CSC). The country is home to some 3,500 General Practitioners spread through different population centres. It is important to note that cost of visiting the GPs to pick up a prescription outside the normal business hours from (8 am – 5 pm) Monday to Friday is usually higher. If you do not have a preferred doctor, you can check the list of different medical providers online and at registered medical centres.

Specialised Care: Maternity, Dental care, Child Care and Elder Care

New Zealand has about 40 hospitals offering basic health and emergency care. The services include surgical operations, medical treatment, intensive care and maternity services. Women seeking maternity services can seek help and information from Lead Maternity Carer (CMC). This cadre of health workers includes GPs or family doctors, midwives and obstetricians. Midwives in New Zealand are primarily self-employed, with many offering continuity care to women who are pregnant and those experiencing labour difficulties, as well as post-natal care.

Besides providing extended care, a number of midwives are employed by District Health Boards to cover shifts in maternity facilities. In line with the government policy, a free health service is available from when a child is born until age 13. The services include immunisations, parental counselling and regular medical checks, including eyesight and hearing. Elder-care forms an integral component of the New Zealand health system. The core services targeted at seniors include home care, home rest, retirement village care and social and financial support.

Dental care is not openly included in the New Zealand free public health system. However, children who meet the criteria spelt under the health and disability services can access free, basic oral care. One of the most popular programmes is Talk Teeth programme, which allows children to get free basic care until they are aged 18. Parents are encouraged to take the earliest opportunity to enrol their children in the programmes. The oral health care practitioners providing dental care across the country include general dentists, orthodontic therapists and hygienists.


A number of medications can be purchased over the counter. To obtain expensive medications, you may need a prescription from a GP. The outlets dispensing these drugs include pharmaceutical franchises, independent chemists and online drug stores.  In 1983, the government set up  PHARMAC  (Pharmaceutical Management Agency of New Zealand) to offer subsidised medications and negotiate low drug prices. Today, about 2,000 drugs sold in the country are either partially or fully subsidised by PHARMAC.

Emergency Services

When an emergency occurs, you need to call the emergency hotline for urgent medical attention. Some of the situations for which you should use the emergency number include: medical emergency, serious injury, the risk of losing life and fire or chemical spill. Hospitals with Accident and Emergency wings across New Zealand operate emergency departments, operating on a 24-hour basis. Emergency services can also be sought from the St. Johns Ambulance and the Wellington Free Ambulance.

The latter offers free services within the city’s jurisdiction. People involved in accidents receive free care under the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) programme, which offers no-fault injury cover to residents and visitors. The services provided under the programme include medical cost, prescription drugs and surgeries. ACC also pays for residential care and rehabilitation services arising from injury or accidents. The programme is funded from the public tax pool and levies obtained from all businesses, vehicle registration, petrol and employees.

When visiting New Zealand from overseas, it is important to know about the inherent health hazards. Fortunately, the country has relatively few numbers of deadly animals compared to the neighboring Australia. There are no snakes in New Zealand, only two variants of mildly poisonous spiders, and shark visitations, though shark attacks are rare. From time to time the country also experiences natural occurrences such as volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis, as it is situated in a seismically active area.

Wellness Programmes and Alternative Health Services

Further health services can be sought through entrenched wellness programmes. These broad-ranging programmes are focused on people with addictions, including smoking, gambling, alcohol and drugs. A number of programmes have been established by the Ministry of Health to combat diseases. The most critical service is children immunisation. Because of its success, wellness programmes have attracted many private organisations such as the Asian Family Services.

Alternative health services have been an integral part of the New Zealand health system for many decades. The use of alternative natural medicines and spiritual healing can be traced to the native Maori people. Today, several alternative health practitioners have been trained to provide this service. Although most of these programmes are not supported by government subsidies, the New Zealand Accident Compensation Scheme (ACC) covers treatments such as osteopathy and acupuncture.

The Osteopathy treatment involves smooth movement of bones and muscles to minimise pain and relax the body. Acupuncture, on the other hand, involves the placement of fine needles on different parts of the body to treat or ease depression, back pain and other musculoskeletal issues. While in New Zealand, you can explore practices such as Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Chiropractic Therapy and the popular, traditional Maori healing technique known as Rongoa Maori.

Support Hotlines

New Zealand continues to streamline its health services to achieve better outcomes. Dedicated helplines have been offered by the Ministry of Health to help those seeking health information and support. One of the powerful resources for finding health care specialists is a popular privately operated website called Healthpoint. Through this resource, people can seek free health advice and speak to nurses and doctors. Healthpoint is also useful in locating pharmacies. Below are important health service phone numbers in New Zealand:
Emergency: Call 111 for assorted services, notably ambulance, police or fire services
Poison: Call 0800 POISON (0800-764-766)

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