Important update on COVID-19 response


This advice has been superseded

Please see the further update that was sent to all doctors on 26 March 2020 at the link below around prescribing and telemedicine. 

Council's Chair, Dr Curtis Walker sent the following update to to all practising doctors by email on 25 March 2020.

The Medical Council recognises the vital role that doctors have in the COVID-19 pandemic. From the frontline in primary care, to the coal face in Emergency Departments, hospital wards and intensive care units, doctors are preparing to deliver the care needed to keep our communities well, and to reduce the health impacts of the disease. All of this while continuing to support the many other day-to-day health needs of New Zealanders, which cannot be forgotten or set aside. The expert advice and leadership from public health and other specialties is informing the Government and health sectors response at all levels.

With the escalation to COVID-19 alert level 4, Council has received many enquiries on a number of issues. We outline these below.

Professional Responsibilities at the front line

In making patient care your central concern, Council does not expect you to place yourself in harm’s way. The key to this is ensuring availability and effective use of personal protective equipment, and following relevant infection control measures.


Council has put a range of measures in place to increase the size of the medical workforce through the pandemic scope, expediting registration of New Zealanders returning home, and of other doctors who are staying in New Zealand due to travel restrictions. We are also increasing the flexibility around medical education, recertification and how and where doctors may work. We will continue to consider different options that will support doctors, which in turn and supports continued safe healthcare to the public.

We understand that in these challenging circumstances, many of you may already be working in very different ways, in different locations, and under different circumstances. The most important aspect of care to pay attention to remains your communication with patients and families. The need to work cooperatively with your colleagues, and to work within your own competence limits are also vital.

The standards and statements that Council has set for the profession and the Health and Disability Consumer Code of Rights continue to provide a framework and foundation for good medical practice. Council takes into account the contexts under which doctors are practising, when considering notifications around competence and conduct. Like everyone, doctors may have health concerns which affect their practice. Council’s health team continues to be available for advice if you or a colleague you work with becomes unwell.

Prescribing advice

Pharmacists are under enormous pressure in dispensing prescribed medicines. To support pharmacists during this time and to reduce stockpiling or hoarding of medicines, please ensure that all prescriptions are for no more than one month and then are faxed or sent through NZePS to the pharmacist requested by the patient.

Council has confirmed that prescriptions do not need to be signed if a prescription:

  • has an NZePS barcode; AND
  • is downloaded at the pharmacy; AND
  • is for non-Controlled Drugs; AND
  • is generated by systems authorised for Signature Exempt Prescriptions by the Ministry of Health.

You should not feel pressured by patients to prescribe COVID-19 therapies which are unproven or lacking in evidence. Medications may be in short supply, and such prescribing risks patients in need for legitimate indications missing out.

Council’s approach to recertification

We recognise the importance of the profession being able to focus on the most urgent matters at hand. Along with the cancellation of many conferences and meetings, the pandemic work will impact on the ability of doctors to fully meet Council’s recertification programme requirements in the coming months.

Council has therefore decided to exempt all General and vocationally-registered doctors from recertification programme requirements until 28 February 2021. Similarly, doctors with general or vocational registration, who return to practice from today, will not be required to enrol in the Inpractice or College programme until that date. Council staff will not be auditing doctors for compliance with recertification programmes over the coming 11 months, but Council will expect doctors to be enrolled and actively participating in their required programmes from 1 March 2021.

We expect that Colleges will communicate further details to participants in their recertification programmes.

As we move closer to 28 February 2021, Council staff will work with Colleges and Inpractice on a strategy to resume recertification programmes and associated audit activity.

Growing the capacity of the profession

We have considered a number of ways we can grow the capacity of the profession. We are working very closely with the Ministry of Health, who are overall responsible for planning and deployment of the registered and non-registered health workforce.

We have written directly to almost 1500 doctors who have ceased practice within the last 3 years, inviting them register with the Ministry of Health here if they would like to temporarily return to practise. The response has been incredibly heartening, with hundreds answering the call. It is clear that everyone wants to contribute to keeping our communities safe.

We are also looking at what other levers we may be able to use that could enable the profession to work differently. This includes extending the time that IMGs are able to practise in locum tenens special purpose scopes of practice, considering how interns can practise outside their accredited clinical attachments, and how doctors in other scopes of practice can contribute outside their scopes. Council is considering many of these issues every day, and we will communicate with you regularly as decisions are made.

On behalf of the hard working team at the Medical Council, I again thank you for your service and dedication to keeping our communities healthy. To see families, communities, countries and humanity coming together, even as we are required to be in physical isolation, gives me great hope that we will succeed.

Noho ora mai,

Curtis Walker
Medical Council of New Zealand