There are several ways of accessing New Zealand’s healthcare services, depending on what sort of help you need.
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If you need medical help, and it is not an emergency, the first point of contact is a GP - general practitioner. GPs in New Zealand work in groups called a practice, operating out of a Medical Centre.
A GP is a fully trained medical doctor who can advise you and refer you for further tests or specialist treatment if needed, either in the public health system (which is free) or through private providers (user pays).
If you need medication, you get that from a pharmacy, sometimes known as a chemist. Pharmacies can sell you certain drugs like every day painkillers, but for more powerful medicine you need to go to a GP first for a prescription.
For emergency medical help, visit the local hospital's emergency department. They will assess and treat patients who have serious injuries or illnesses.
The New Zealand health system is explained in this video from the Waitemata District Health Board. This video is presented in English, Hindi and Mandarin.
The Health Navigator website provides reliable and trustworthy New Zealand health information and self care resources.
Finding a GP
There are over 3,500 GPs in New Zealand located in almost every city, town and suburb. To find a GP you can look in the front of the White Pages telephone book, under ‘Registered Medical Practitioners and Medical Centres'.
You can also look at the Healthpoint website which lists registered GPs by area.
Start looking for a GP as soon as you can once you have decided where you’re going to live so that you can be enrolled for subsidised charges when you want to see a doctor.
Not all GPs in a practice will be taking new patients. Remember to check the fees the practice charges when you enrol. Practices usually give priority to people who live or work in their local area.
Get a copy of your medical records from your home country so you can give them to your GP here in New Zealand
You can request a male or female GP and take a companion with you to an appointment.
To find out more about enrolling with a practice and finding a GP, visit the Ministry of Health web page. The Your Local Doctor website also has easy to read information on how to enrol with a GP, and the benefits to doing it.
If you have to see someone suddenly, you can use the after hours service that GPs practices offer. You can use these services even if you aren’t enrolled with them, but you’ll pay a higher, unsubsidised price.
If you have questions or you don’t know what to do or who to see, call Healthline 0800 611 116.
If there’s a medical emergency needing urgent attention you can call for an ambulance. In New Zealand the number to dial is 111.
In the Wellington area, Wellington Free ambulance services are available at no charge. In other areas there is a charge to use the ambulance, even if you don't call it. See the St Johns Ambulance website for more information.
Alternatively you can go to the emergency departments that hospitals run (sometimes called Accident and Emergency or A&E units), which are open 24 hours.
The Ministry of Health has more information about what to do in an emergency.
New Zealand has around 40 public hospitals spread across the country in cities and larger towns.
With minor exceptions, such as some kinds of cosmetic surgery, hospital treatment is free for those eligible for health care services. Nobody can be refused emergency care because they cannot pay, but if you’re not a New Zealand resident, you may have to pay for some services. If you are not eligible for health care services, we strongly recommend you take out a travel medical insurance policy.
Hospitals care for emergencies, serious health problems and illnesses. Their services include emergency departments and medical, surgical and maternity services.
Waiting times for surgery vary from hospital to hospital. If your case is urgent, you will be put on an urgent waiting list.
As well as the public hospitals, there are many private hospitals around New Zealand which you can access if you have health insurance.
Under the Talk Teeth programme, children get free basic care for their teeth until they’re 18, but otherwise dentists aren’t part of the free public health system. The Ministry of Health has information about dental care for families in New Zealand.
Dental care is provided by Oral Health care practitioners - dentists, hygienists etc. - in private practices. Fees can vary widely so remember to ask about them when you’re looking for a dentist.
In New Zealand, if you need to see a medical specialist you have to start by going to your GP for a referral.
Specialists work in both the public and private healthcare systems but you can only choose a particular specialist if you go through New Zealand’s private health system.
The privately-operated website Healthpoint has useful information about specialist medical care in New Zealand, the treatments they offer and what you need to get referred.
Maternity services in New Zealand are arranged and coordinated by a Lead Maternity Carer (LMC), usually a midwife.
The Ministry of Health and HealthEd have information about whether you’ll be eligible for free maternity care, how LMCs work with you, where to find maternity services and what screening programmes are available.
From birth to five years all children in New Zealand qualify for a free health service called Well Child / Tamariki Ora. It gives children a range of health checks as well as providing support and advice for new parents.
Lead Maternity Carers will get you started on this programme if you’re a new parent or you can go to the website.
One of the providers of the Well Child service is the Plunket Society. Plunket provides a wide range of free support services for children under five and their parents. Its services include home and clinic visits, mobile clinics and PlunketLine, a free telephone advice service for parents on 0800 933 922.
From 1 July 2015, all children under 13 are eligible for free general practice visits, both during the day and after-hours. This includes immunisations against serious disease, regular eyesight and hearing checks at school, and visits to the doctor. Basic dental care through school dental clinics is also free while children are at school. Not all GPs may provide free visits, so check with your GP first.
New Zealand offers a wide range of services to help the elderly in New Zealand. They include home care, financial support, social support, rest homes and retirement villages.
For comprehensive information, call Senior Line 0800 725 463 or visit their website.
Mental health services
Mental health services are provided in each region. Generally, you need to start with your GP to get a referral, but emergency services are also available.
There are several phone services which offer help with mental health issues including Depression Line 0800 111 757 and Lifeline 0800 543 354.
The Ministry of Health has more information on what to do in a mental health emergency, along with details of the other helplines and support services that are available.
Healthline is a free telephone health advice service. Talk to a registered nurse about whether you should see a doctor, to get general health advice, or to find the nearest doctor or pharmacy. Healthline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 0800 611 116.
The Ministry of Health have a range of programmes that help prevent illness. They range from help with addictions like gambling, alcohol or smoking to immunisation programmes and advice about keeping active.
Some organisations such as Asian Family Services, provide multilingual wellness support to migrants.
Help to stop smoking
Quitline is a service funded by the Ministry of Health to help people stop smoking. They offer a support phone line, online and text support. If you are eligible for free healthcare services you can also access free nicotine replacement products through your doctor.Quitline 0800 778 778
Complementary and alternative health services
New Zealand has a huge range of alternative health practitioners.
Alternative healthcare isn’t subsidised by the government. However, the costs of acupuncture and osteopathy for injuries caused by an accident are covered by New Zealand’s unique accident compensation scheme. For more information about the accident compensation scheme see the section on Injuries from accidents on our Paying for your Healthcare page.