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Brought to you by Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora – Southern and WellSouth primary health network

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About the New Zealand health care system

New Zealand has a high quality health care system health system, much of which is funded by general taxation. This means it is free or subsidised for people who are eligible for publicly funded health care in New Zealand. 

The health system can be considered in three main parts – public health services, and primary and secondary health care. It is important that you receive the right care at the right time.

Public health is the part of the health system mostly concerned with promoting an environment and society that supports good health. This means providing information and shaping policies to promote areas that make a difference to lifelong health, such as immunisation, breastfeeding, smoke free environments, warm dry housing and clean air. Public health teams also help manage outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as measles.

Primary health care, as its name suggests, is the first point of contact for most health services. This includes the family doctor or general practitioner, dentists, pharmacists, LMC midwives, and other services based in the community. These are services you can access directly, and do not need to be referred there by another health provider.  

Primary care services often involve a cost to patients, although many are subsidised. Some primary health services are free for eligible people, such as oral health care for children, and maternity care.

You can also access emergency departments directly, even though they are often based at a hospital. There is no cost. They should only be used in an emergency - in other cases you should see your GP or after hours doctor.

Secondary health care refers to more specialist level care, and is often based in a hospital setting. You will usually be referred to specialist health care from a primary care provider, usually your general practitioner. You might also be admitted to hospital following a presentation at the Emergency Department for an acute illness or as the result of an accident. 

Secondary health care treatment in New Zealand’s public hospital system is free if you are eligible. Our aim is to ensure those in most need of care receive this service and we prioritise patients based on the urgency of their situation. 

You can also choose to access some hospital and specialist services through private consultants; these services must be paid for. Medical insurance can help you in accessing private hospital and specialist services. For more information regarding private hospitals and care providers see

What does this mean for Southern health system?

Our aim is to support everyone across the district to live well and access the right care when they need it.

Southern District Health Board (Southern DHB) manages the funding provided by the government for health services in this district. This includes running the public hospital system, providing funding to primary and community health care providers, and ensuring the health care meets standards set by the Ministry of Health (MOH). WellSouth Primary Health Network organises and supports the work of general practices across the district.

Collectively, all the health care providers across the district belong to the Southern Health system and are all working together to provide the care you need.