What we do

We protect and promote public health and safety in New Zealand. The funding that allows us to do this comes from fees that doctors pay to be registered and to practice medicine.

We are governed by a Council. Learn more about the Council.

Protecting the public

The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 sets out our role - here’s a short summary.

We are responsible for:

  • registering New Zealand doctors
  • keeping a register of all doctors
  • setting standards for the way our doctors practise medicine·
  • making sure doctors have the skills to practise within the scope of how they are registered
  • promoting continuous learning for doctors so their skills are kept up to date
  • reviewing doctors when their performance, professional conduct or health is a concern.

We also:

  • issue doctors with practicing certificates provided they maintain their skills at the right level to practise medicine well
  • make sure medical students and new doctors get the right training
  • make sure doctors continue their medical education once they start working
  • manage how doctors practise if they are unwell and might be putting patients’ health at risk
  • suspend a doctor’s practice if necessary.

Our job is to protect you – not doctors

You have a right to expect high standards of care from your doctor and our job is to make sure that is what you receive. We are not here to protect doctors – their interests are protected by others. Our job is to protect the health and safety of patients.

So when a doctor falls short of our standards, we have strong legal powers to protect patients from harm. If necessary, we can stop them practising medicine.

Here’s the Act of Parliament that sets out our responsibilities. Please take a look if you would like to know more.

Independent from Government

The best way to protect your rights as a patient is for us to be independent from both doctors and the Government.

Because we are independent and focussed on what's best for the public, you can trust we:

  • put patient health and safety first
  • promote and encourage good medical practice
  • promote fairness and equality, and value diversity
  • do our job fairly and follow principles of consistency transparency and balance fairly;

What happens with complaints

Sometimes members of the public come to us to investigate a complaint about a doctor or asking us to take disciplinary action against a doctor. Complaints are usually about the doctor’s behaviour, or their competence - how well they do their job. By law, we must refer these complaints to the Health and Disability Commissioner.

The Health and Disability Commissioner deals with complaints about a doctor from patients, their families, whānau, other support people, or from people such as concerned staff members in a medical practice.

If the complaint is about a doctor doing a poor job, we do not investigate the actual complaint; the Health and Disability Commissioner does this. If we decide that the complaint means that the doctor may not be fully competent, we may decide to review the doctor's general competence as a doctor. One outcome might be that the doctor has to complete what’s called a ‘competence programme’ to show they have the right skills to practice in their chosen area.

If a complaint is about doctor’s behaviour, we cannot investigate it further until the Health and Disability Commissioner has finished doing so. However, we can protect the health and safety of the public by putting controls on the doctor’s practice, if necessary, while the Health and Disability Commissioner is investigating.

In some cases, disciplinary action might need to be taken against a doctor. That is not the role of the Health and Disability Commissioner or the Medical Council. Instead, actual disciplinary action against a doctor is a job of a separate body; the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

How we are run

We are run by a 12-member Council. Our council is appointed by the Minister of Health.

By law, the majority of the Council must be doctors but there must be layperson council members too. A layperson is someone who is not registered as a health practitioner. The current Council consists of:

  • four doctors chosen by the Minister
  • four doctors elected by other doctors
  • four laypersons chosen by the Minster.

Council members are appointed for a 3-year term, and they can be reappointed for up to 9 years in total.

Our history

The Medical Council has a long history dating back to March 1915 when the Medical Practitioners Act 1914 came into effect.

The publication A History of the Medical Council of New Zealand, compiled by Professor Richard Sainsbury details Council's activities between then and now as well as relaying reflections from former Chairs of Council on the issues Council faced during their respective tenures.