Doctors & Dentists

Visits, surgery hours and fees

New Zealand has a community-based system of healthcare, where your first point of contact for any medical problem is your family doctor or general practitioner (GP), who treats minor conditions and refers more serious cases to specialists or hospitals.

It’s advisable to find and register with a doctor as soon as you arrive in a new area, although it isn’t compulsory to do so and you can just turn up at any doctor’s surgery, where you will usually receive prompt attention. You’re allowed to choose any doctor, although it’s obviously more convenient to use one near your home. Telephone directories contain a list of local doctors in the preface.

Most doctors’ surgeries are well equipped and often take the form of health centres or group practices where several doctors practise together and specialise in different areas, such as obstetrics or paediatrics. Many also have their own nurses who you can consult for minor problems and treatment, which is cheaper than seeing a doctor. New Zealand nurses are highly trained and qualified and are authorised to prescribe certain drugs and administer treatments (such as intravenous injections) which aren’t permitted in many other countries.

Under the state healthcare scheme, a flat rate is levied for each visit to a doctor, irrespective of the nature of the visit. The basic consultation fee is from $45 to $55 and visits at night and weekends cost $10 to $15 extra. Visits to a GP are subsidised by $15 for children aged 6-17 and by $35 for children under six. Some GPs waive the fee for treating children under six.

Adults who visit the doctor often or who receive social benefits receive a $15 subsidy. If you have a Community Services Card, a doctor’s visit costs $15 to $20 for an adult and around $10 for a child over five. If you need to visit the doctor frequently (at least 12 times a year), you can apply for a High Use Health Card from your doctor, which entitles you to the same reductions as a CSC.

Surgery hours are usually 8.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday, although it’s necessary to make an appointment and a doctor may not always be available (e.g. he could be on a house call). Some family doctors provide a service outside surgery hours and make house calls, although this is rare; in cities, calls outside surgery hours are directed to an after-hours clinic. If you don’t know where your nearest after-hours clinic is located, call your doctor’s regular number and your call will be diverted (or a recorded message will tell you where the clinic is).

Healthline originated as a pilot scheme in four areas of New Zealand, providing 24-hour health advice from trained nurses. The scheme – similar to those in Australia, the UK and the USA – initially had a two-year trial that ended in July 2002. It has since been expanded to provide a national service, a process which is due to be completed by the end of 2005. Healthline can be contacted on freephone 0800-611 116.

Dentists

There are excellent dentists throughout New Zealand; indeed New Zealanders travelling abroad often search high and low in cities such as London and New York for a New Zealand dentist.

If you wish, you may be able to find a British or American dentist in Auckland or Wellington, although they all inflict the same sort of torture irrespective of nationality! Most dentists in New Zealand are in private practice, as the public health scheme doesn’t extend to dentistry, except in the case of children. Children at primary schools see a school dental nurse and many primary schools have a dental surgery on the premises.

Children are entitled to see a school dentist every 12 months, although a backlog has been developing for several years resulting in most children seeing a dentist only once every 18 months (they don’t seem to mind!). All children up to the age of 16 (18 if still at school) are entitled to free treatment by the dentist of their choice, assuming that he participates in the ‘free dental scheme’ (many dentists have withdrawn from the scheme because of the ‘inadequate’ fees paid by the Ministry of Health).

To find a dentist, obtain recommendations from neighbours, colleagues and friends, or consult your local telephone directory. It’s wise to shop around, as charges can vary considerably, particularly for extensive repair work. However, most dentists, unless they target wealthy patients, charge fees that are affordable to the average person (although it can still be an expensive business). It’s wise to obtain a quotation before having ‘expensive’ treatment – many dentists have ‘menu pricing’, although this should be regarded only as a guide.

Typical dental fees include $65 for an examination, $110 for an examination and scaling, and $90 for a small filling, while a set of dentures (including extractions and fitting) is likely to set you back from $800 to $2,000. Information about dentists can be obtained from the Dental Council of New Zealand, PO Box 10-448, Wellington (Tel. 04-499 4820, www.dentalcouncil.org.nz ).

It’s possible to take out special insurance against dental costs, and cover for dental treatment may also be included in general medical insurance policies, which can be purchased from medical insurance companies and from dentists.


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