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NZ's medico-legal landscape

What overseas doctors and health professionals need to know.

New Zealand’s medico-legal system: what you need to know

Like many other countries around the world, the New Zealand healthcare system is experiencing something of a workforce crisis with serious shortages of doctors and nurses. Your arrival to practice in New Zealand will be very welcome - haere mai!

Over 50% of New Zealand’s medical workforce is made up of overseas medical graduates and we are expecting to see that percentage increase once international borders are again open this July. Health professionals trained and coming from abroad must be aware that New Zealand’s unique medico-legal landscape will be different from what they are used to.

The healthcare landscape in New Zealand

Like many other western countries, New Zealand has a public healthcare system open to all, where most care offered is either free of charge or subsidized. There is also private healthcare available to those who can afford it.

Read more about the New Zealand healthcare system on the Ministry of Health website.

Patient complaints

Medical doctors coming to New Zealand often underestimate the risks they may face. Even the most attentive healthcare professionals will at one time or another receive a patient complaint. Patients in New Zealand can take several different avenues to making an official complaint. It is important that you are well informed about this, possible risks and the medico-legal landscape in NZ as it will be different to what you are used to.

Lawsuits by patients are almost unheard of and unlikely to succeed in the absence of gross negligence. On the other hand, complaints and investigations that can damage your professional and personal reputation and become very public are not at all unusual.

The principal pathway for complaints by patients is to the Health & Disability Commissioner. There are many ways that a clinician can break the Commissioner’s Code of Rights, so make sure you’re familiar with it before you start working.

The Commissioner may choose to refer the matter to other agencies and jurisdictions, including the Medical Council, the Health Practitioners’ Disciplinary Tribunal, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, and the Human Rights Review Tribunal. Resolution in one jurisdiction does not mean that the case will be dismissed in another.

The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) is the body that provides compensation to patients who suffer ‘treatment injury’ in the course of treatment by health professionals. Again, if fault is found by the ACC, referral may then be made to a variety of disciplinary bodies.

Professional indemnity insurance

Before you start practicing in New Zealand, you must sign up for professional indemnity insurance. Be aware that not all insurance is the same. The NZ medico-legal landscape differs from what you are used to. It is important to consider carefully which provider would suit you best.

ACC (mentioned above) legislation will not always protect you from the kinds of serious legal challenges and penalties you may have faced in other countries. This web of jurisdictions in which health professionals may become entangled in is the reason that we, more than ever, need professional, comprehensive insurance!

Medicus is the only professional, comprehensive indemnity insurance provider for healthcare professionals in New Zealand. We offer our members assured cover thanks to our brokers Aon and NZI (one of New Zealand’s largest insurers).

Other insurance providers have different structures, which means they cannot hold the funds required to meet future liabilities. As a result, their cover is discretionary - they will on occasion decline to provide legal assistance or to cover awards of court costs or damages.

As an international medical doctor planning for arrival and professional career in New Zealand, it is important to give more than passing thought to the provider of professional indemnity cover - not all cover is equal.

Medicus offers assured cover for all healthcare professionals, including doctors, dentists, nurses and allied health professionals.


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