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HealthInfo Aoraki-South Canterbury

New Zealand healthcare system

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The Ministry of Health (MoH) oversees and funds 20 District Health Boards (DHBs). A DHB organises healthcare in their district so that it meets standards set by the MoH.

Eligibility for publicly funded health services

Many health services in New Zealand are free or subsidised. To get public healthcare, you need to be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident. You can also get public healthcare if you have a two-year work visa or are a quota refugee. Non-residents may have to pay for some hospital services, but you won't be refused emergency care if you can't pay.

Eligibility for publicly funded health services on the MoH's website has information about who is eligible for free or subsidised healthcare.

If you qualify for free public healthcare, here's what you can expect from the country's public health system:

If you are eligible, treatment in a public hospital is free. To go into a public hospital, a specialist must admit you. A family doctor (known as a GP) can refer you to a hospital if your condition is urgent.

You can choose to have some of your health needs provided by a private hospital. But you must pay for services in a private hospital. Medical insurance can help you pay for private hospital services.

You may be eligible for funded maternity care if your partner is eligible even if you aren't.

All children under six can get publicly funded vaccinations even if they aren't residents. See Vaccinations for children.

The Government recommends that people who are not eligible for publicly funded health services have full travel insurance.

Choosing a family doctor (GP)

A family doctor or GP is normally your first point of contact with the New Zealand health system. It is important to enrol with a GP as soon as you can. Most GPs practice within a medical centre.

Enrolling with a GP

Many subsidies are available to enrolled patients. Once you complete an enrolment form at a medical centre, you can get these subsidies. If you don't enrol with a GP, you will have to pay a higher consultation fee.

You can only enrol with a GP if you are eligible to do so. You can choose to enrol with a male or female doctor. The doctor's receptionist will ask you to complete a form with your name and contact details. Remember to bring along your passport and visa. They will also ask you about your medical history.

You can change your GP but there may be a wait. Contact Primary and Community Services on (03) 687‑2307 to find out if any GPs are taking new patients. Subsidies at the new medical centre may not be available for up to three months.

Making an appointment to see a GP

If you want to see your GP, you should make an appointment the day before. However, GPs will always see you the same day if your medical issue is urgent.

You can bring a friend or support person to most medical examinations. But you should not use a support person as an interpreter. See the information below about getting help from a professional interpreter.

Practice nurses are an excellent source of health information and carry out many services. You can also make an appointment to see the nurse.

You need to pay for each visit and the costs vary for each medical centre. There are extra charges if the doctor visits you at home or for emergency appointments. Your doctor will only give you prescriptions if they think you need them.

Seeing a specialist

Your GP may refer you to a specialist for further examination. The cost varies and usually starts from $150.00.

If you are eligible, your doctor can refer you to a specialist through the public health system. This is free, but you may go on a waiting list and wait several months before getting an appointment.

Private health insurance

Some people choose to pay for private health insurance. With private health insurance, you can get specialist treatment and care from a private hospital without going on a waiting list.

To find a private medical insurer search for medical insurance in the Yellow Pages.

Some insurance specialists speak languages other than English. They usually advertise in ethnic media.

There is more information about health insurance on the Insurance and Financial Services Ombudsman website.

Community services card (CSC)

A Community services card is issued by a government department known as Work and Income. You can apply for a community services card if you are:

The card can help you get the following services at a reduced rate or at no charge:

To find out more about the card, see Community services card.

To find out if you are eligible for a card, contact Work and Income at or phone free on 0800‑999‑999.

High user health card

If you visit your family doctor 12 or more times within 12 months for an on-going illness, you will qualify for a High Use Health Card. This will give you higher subsidies on your doctor visits and on prescriptions.

Accident cover

The government's Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) covers all accidents that occur in New Zealand. You are covered even if you are a not a permanent resident.

For more information about ACC, visit or phone free on 0800‑101‑996. ACC has Interpreters available. See If you're injured visiting New Zealand for details about getting help from ACC if you are visiting New Zealand.

After-hours healthcare

See Emergency & after-hours medical help for details about after hours healthcare in South Canterbury.

The ambulance service

St John New Zealand provides ambulance services for most of New Zealand.

In an emergency, call for an ambulance by phoning 111.

If you use an ambulance for a non-accident service, St John's will send you an invoice. If you are eligible for publicly funded health services, the invoice will be a part charge of $98 and should be seen as a contribution. If you are a non-eligible visitor to New Zealand, the minimum charge will be $800.

Ambulance officers help stabilise people who have had an accident or who have fallen ill. They also:

Dental care

Basic dental care for eligible children is free from birth age 18. After that, you must pay for dental care.

Dentists can write prescriptions if you need them as a part of your treatment.

Dentists don't receive government subsidies. They usually charge more than GPs.

See How and where to get dental care in South Canterbury for more details.

Pharmacy services

If you need medicine, your doctor will write you a prescription. You can't buy prescription medicines without a prescription.

You will need to take your prescription to a pharmacy. Depending on how busy the pharmacist is, it could take up to twenty minutes before your prescription is ready. Family members can also pick up your prescription. If you are eligible for public healthcare, you will usually only pay $5.00 for each item on your prescription.

The government fully funds most prescriptions, but some have a higher patient charge.

When you pick up your prescription, you need to understand how to take it. If you have any doubts, ask the pharmacy staff to explain.

If you or your family need to pay for many prescriptions, you may be eligible for a Prescription subsidy card.

Pharmacies also sell over-the-counter (OTC) products that you can buy without a prescription. Ask your pharmacy staff for advice.

Pharmacy staff can give advice if you have are worried about your or your family's health.

If you need urgent medicine outside normal business hours, you can go to an Urgent Pharmacy. See Emergency & after-hours medical help for details about urgent pharmacies in South Canterbury.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by Pegasus Health, Christchurch. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created August 2016.

See also:

Getting medical help if you are new to South Canterbury

Health information in multiple languages

Where to go for medical help

Page reference: 169804

Review key: HIMRH-125055