Doctors, A & E and hospitals
Cut through the confusion with our guide to healthcare
General practitioners (GPs)
What can a GP help with?
A general practitioner (GP) is a fully-trained medical doctor that helps look after the health of you and your family. Your GP is the most important person you should see about your general health. They can help with an array of health issues including illness management, prescriptions, medical certificates, child health, immunisations, sexual health and contraception, injury management and travel advice. Your GP can also refer you to secondary health services.
When should I see a GP?
Your GP should be your first point of contact if you have a health problem that isn’t an emergency.
How to book an appointment
In New Zealand, you can choose the GP or medical centre that you visit. Once you’ve chosen your doctor, booking an appointment is as simple as phoning the medical centre. If you require a doctor of the same sex or an interpreter, ask for this to be organised when booking.
I feel sick, but my medical centre is closed. What should I do?
Medical centres are usually open during business hours, Monday to Friday. However, all GPs are required to ensure care is available for their patients outside these hours. Ask your GP where you should go in these circumstances; it may be an after-hours medical centre. Alternatively, call HealthLine on 0800 611 116 for free, confidential advice from a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In an emergency, dial 111 for an ambulance or visit your local hospital’s accident and emergency department.
How much does a GP cost?
As medical centres are privately owned, the cost of a visit can vary. Enrolling at a medical centre means you pay less for appointments and any prescribed medicines, as the government subsidises part of your care*. For a list of GPs in your local area and their fees, check your local district health board.
It’s worth noting that some people, such as under-13s, pregnant women and new mothers are entitled to free vital care. However, when booking, be sure to confirm this with your medical centre.
What should I do in an emergency?
If there’s a medical emergency, call an ambulance on 111.
If the individual is stable enough, you can take them to the emergency department – sometimes called Accident and Emergency (A&E) – at your local hospital. A&E is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. If in doubt about whether someone needs an ambulance, call 111. The operator will be able to advise you on what to do.
Examples of symptoms which warrant a visit to A&E include severe chest pains, a car crash or serious accident, severe abdominal pain, breathing difficulties, serious illness or wounds, suspected broken bones, accidental poisoning or drug overdose, or major concern over a child’s health.
What happens at A&E?
When a patient arrives at A&E, medical staff assess their condition and determine its severity. Patients are seen and treated in order of the urgency of their condition, not in the order that they arrive, to ensure that those in greatest need of care receive it first.
How much does an emergency cost?
Individuals* who receive treatment by a St John ambulance officer or are taken to hospital in their ambulance are required to pay $98. Exceptions apply for individuals enrolled in the St John Ambulance supporter scheme (paid annual subscription) or if you’re in an area serviced by the Wellington Free Ambulance.
Hospital treatment in emergency situations is largely free for those eligible for healthcare services*. If you don’t meet the criteria, you can still access emergency hospital care for acute services, but you can expect to get a bill. If you have been involved in an accident, most of the associated costs are covered by New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), regardless of whether you’re at fault. Not limited to road accidents, the ACC may also cover certain treatment cost for injuries at work, home or daily life.
Specialist care and surgery
How do I get referred?
To see a medical specialist or undergo surgery, you typically need a referral from your GP. Your GP can refer you to New Zealand’s public or private hospitals. If you have private health insurance, you may be able to contact your desired specialist directly to arrange an appointment. If you’re covered by private health insurance, your insurer may be able to recommend specialists that will charge less out-of-pocket expenses.
nib recommends checking if your specialist is in the nib First Choice network.
You can also read specialist reviews and recommendations by other patients using whitecoat.co.nz.
How long will I wait?
Waiting times for specialist appointments and surgery vary from hospital to hospital and between public and private hospitals.
In the public system, how long you wait to see a medical specialist or undergo surgery depends on the urgency of your situation, and how serious your needs are compared to others seeking the same services.
Once you’re on a waiting list, you’ll usually see a specialist or undergo surgery within four months. In the meantime, your care will be managed by your GP.
It’s worth noting that you’re not able to choose the person who performs your surgery in the public system. Private health insurance, on the other hand, gives you access to New Zealand’s private hospitals, and may give you control over when and where you are treated and the surgeon or specialist who treats you.
How much does it cost?
Some specialist care is funded by the government for eligible individuals* through the public system.
However, if you want to visit a specific medical specialist or see someone quickly, you must pay for your appointment. If you have private health insurance, part or all of the cost may be covered, depending on your policy. Without insurance, the cost of specialist services or surgery can be steep.
Private health insurance is designed to complement New Zealand’s comprehensive public healthcare system. Health insurance with nib may give you the freedom to choose when, where and how you receive treatment, and know that no matter what goes wrong, you and your family have cover.
Important things to know
- New Zealand citizens and residents, individuals holding a work visa valid for a minimum of two years or individuals with a valid work visa who have legally resided in NZ for the past two years, (as well as other individuals who may be eligible) are eligible to receive subsidised health care. If you qualify, your children (under 17) are also eligible.
Information correct as at September 2018.