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Understanding Health

Health Systems

In New Zealand, one of the Government’s primary objectives is to provide healthcare services to all New Zealanders. It does this through the New Zealand health system.

The Government receives money for the health system through taxes, ACC levies and premiums. Each year, the Government decides how much of these public funds will be spent on healthcare. This is called “Vote: Health”.

The Government, through the Minister of Health, allocates money to the 21 district health boards (DHBs) to purchase health services for the people in New Zealand.

This resource will give you a more in depth overview of how the New Zealand health system works. There are a multitude of jobs in the health sector and if you know even a little bit about how our health system works, it should be easier to understand what kind of career pathway you could pursue in the health sector.

Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health (MOH) is a government department that manages New Zealand’s health system. The MOH works as the principal advisor to the Government on health and disability policy, and leads and supports the sector to achieve better health for New Zealanders, and reduce inequalities. The Minister of Health has overall responsibility for the health and disability system.


The New Zealand health system is split into 21 areas called districts. Each district has a district health board which is responsible for providing and funding the provision of health and disability services in its district. The DHBs run public hospitals and other services, such as the National Cervical Screening Programme, health promotion activities and public health nursing services.

Each DHB is allocated money using a weighted population-based funding formula. This means each DHB will be funded for the population within their catchment. DHBs with larger populations will get more money than their smaller counterparts.

Service providers

Provider and Funder Arms

A DHB has two distinctive arms, the provider arm and the funder arm. The provider arm is predominately hospital services, however it also includes community services, public health services, and assessment, treatment and rehabilitation services. The funder arm refers to the business of allocating the DHB’s funding to the various health services delivered to its population.


What is an NGO?

A Non-Government Organisation (NGO) functions independently from the government. NGOs include independent community and iwi/M?ori organisations operating on a not-for-profit basis. Some of the most recognised NGOs include IHC, Plunket, Family Planning and the Salvation Army.

Private Hospitals

Health services in New Zealand can be attained through the private sector. Private hospitals are owned by companies that are funded privately. For a price, private hospitals will treat individuals earlier than they can be treated in the public sector. Some people prefer this as they don’t have to wait for urgent or non urgent services.


What is a PHO?

Primary Health Organisations (PHOs) are local structures that deliver and co-ordinate primary health care services. PHOs get a set amount of funding from the government to subsidise a range of health services. This funding is based on the numbers and characteristics eg. age, sex, ethnicity. of people enrolled with them. PHOs bring together doctors, nurses and other health professionals such as Maori health workers, health promotion workers, dieticians in the community to serve the needs of their enrolled populations. DHBs work with local communities and providers to establish PHOs in their regions.

Enrolment in a PHO is voluntary, but people are encouraged to join a PHO in order to gain the benefits associated with belonging to a PHO, which include cheaper doctors visits and reduced costs on prescription medicines.

How do I join a PHO?

To enrol, usually you sign a form which your doctor, nurse or medical centre receptionist can give you. The form will ask for your name, age, birth date, address and ethnicity. The information is protected by the Privacy Act 1993 and the Health Information Privacy Code 1994.