Doctors and primary health care 

What is a Primary Health Organisation (PHO)?

Most general practices are part of a PHO. A PHO is a community team of primary health care providers (doctors, nurses and other health professionals) which is subsidised by the district health board to serve the health needs of their community. The aim is to better link services together to provide better health care.

What are the advantages of belonging to a PHO?

If you are enrolled at a medical practice which is a member of a PHO, you might qualify for reduced cost visits to the doctor, and pay only $5 per prescription (as long as the medicine is fully subsidised and the prescription is from your usual PHO doctor).

Funding from the government is based on the numbers and characteristics of the people enrolled with the PHO (for instance age, sex, and ethnicity). People who belong to a PHO practice are expected to receive most of their primary health care there, and therefore have the added benefit of a long-term relationship with a health provider.

Can doctors charge as much as they want to?

Although the Government subsidises the cost of seeing your GP (provided their surgery/clinic is a member of your PHO, and you are eligible for publicly-funded healthcare), doctors’ practices are generally privately owned and are therefore entitled to set their own fees.

You’re likely to be charged more to visit an after-hour clinic because of the cost of making staff available outside normal working hours.

You will probably also be charged more to visit a GP if you are not enrolled with them, since the Government subsidy they receive doesn’t cover ‘casual’ (non-enrolled) patients.

The charge for a consultation with a GP can also vary depending on your age group. For example, they may charge nothing to see a child aged less than 13 years, and charge less for young adults and senior citizens than for patients aged between 24 years and 45 years.

You can compare the PHOs’ charges for your area, by checking the website of your district health board.

If you’re concerned that you can’t afford to see a doctor when you need to, read the next question.

Can people on low incomes or who have chronic health problems get discounts at the doctor’s?

Your doctor’s visits are already reduced if you are enrolled at a PHO and usually go there for medical treatment. If you aren’t yet enrolled, it’s worth knowing that doctor’s fees (see above) vary so you may be able to enrol with one which is cheaper.

You may also qualify for further discounts as described below:

Community Services Card
If you have a Community Services Card, you’ll pay less for prescriptions and visits to a doctor who is not in your PHO (e.g. in an after-hours clinic). Read more about this on our Community Services Card page.

High Use Health Card
If you have paid for at least twelve visits to your doctor in the last twelve months, for a health condition which isn’t accident-related, you can ask your GP to apply for a High Use Health Card on your behalf.

The High Use Health Card gives you the same benefits as a Community Services Card for GP visits and prescription charges, i.e. you’ll pay less for prescriptions from a provider who is not contracted by the Ministry of Health, a district health board or a PHO (e.g. a private specialist), and for visits to a GP who is not part of your PHO (e.g. at an after-hours clinic).

A High Use Health Card is valid for 12 months.

Pharmaceutical Subsidy Card
If you have paid to have 20 prescriptions filled since 31 January, you can get a Pharmaceutical Subsidy Card which makes any further prescriptions free until the following February. Read more about this on our Other Health Professionals page.

Care Plus
If you have a chronic health condition, serious medical or mental health needs, or a terminal illness, you could be eligible for Care Plus. If your doctor assesses you as being eligible for CarePlus, they will receive extra funding from the Ministry of Health which allows them to provide you with more intensive care. This may be in the form of a care plan, regular follow-ups, or services at a reduced cost. You must be enrolled with a PHO before you can join CarePlus.

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How do I know that my overseas trained doctor is allowed to practise in New Zealand?

You can check with the Medical Council of New Zealand to see if your doctor is registered here. You can find out whether they are registered and able to practice in New Zealand, about their qualifications and scope of practice, and whether the doctor is subject to an ‘interim suspension’ (i.e. they are being investigated due to concerns about patient safety).

The register will not tell you whether a doctor has been removed from the register, nor whether they are under investigation by the Health and Disability Commissioner.

I am new to the area. How can I find a doctor to enrol with?

You can consult the pages at the front of the residential phone book for a list of other doctors in your area or ask friends and neighbours for recommendations. 

You should try to enrol with a doctor whose practice is part of a PHO to take advantage of Government subsidies. A list of PHOs is available in your area is on your district health board’s website, including how much each PHO charges for visits.

You can always contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for more help.

Can you help me to find a Maori health provider in my area?

You can search the directory of Maori health providers on the Ministry of Health website. The health providers are set out by location, so you can easily find one near you.

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How do I find a doctor who speaks my language?

One place to start is your local refugee or migrants centre. They might have a directory of doctors in your area that speak your language. You can find refugee and migrants centres in your phone book or by searching our database. You can also speak to people in your community who are familiar with the doctors in your area. If you need more advice, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Can I get medical advice without paying to see a doctor?

If you have concerns about your health but aren’t sure whether you’re sick enough to need medical attention, you can call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for free medical advice from a trained registered nurse. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is funded by the Ministry of Health.

You can ask about:

  • whether you need to see a doctor
  • urgent advice regarding a family member or friend who is unwell
  • where the nearest doctor or pharmacy is, if you are away from home.

If English is not your first language, they may be able to arrange for an interpreting service.

How do I make a complaint about my doctor?

It is best to speak to your doctor yourself first and try to sort the issue out between the two of you. If that’s not satisfactory you can complain to the Health and Disability Commissioner. See our information about the Health and Disability Commissioner.

I am trained as a doctor in my home country. Will I be allowed to practise in New Zealand?

You need to be registered with the Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ), to work as a doctor in New Zealand. You can use the MCNZ's online self-assessment tool to help determine your eligibility for registration.

Depending on your qualifications, experience and your intended scope of practice (the health service a doctor is allowed to perform), you will probably be required to pass the NZREX examination and afterwards work under supervision for at least 12 months. When your supervisor has determined that you have reached the required standard you can be registered.

For more information about applying for registration, see the Medical Council of New Zealand website .