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If you are a health practitioner, there are a number of legal requirements you must comply with and be aware of before you can practise your profession in New Zealand. In particular, you must not claim or imply to be a practitioner of a regulated health profession unless you:

  • are appropriately qualified;
  • registered; and
  • hold an annual practising certificate.

In this article, we look at some of your legal requirements as a health practitioner in New Zealand.

What Laws Do I Need to Comply With?

In New Zealand, the Health Practitioner Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HCPA) regulates health practitioners. The purpose of this law is to protect the health and safety of health consumers. It ensures health practitioners are competent and fit to practise their health professions.

The HCPA also sets out the requirements for independent regulatory authorities or ‘responsible authorities’. These are the bodies that are responsible for regulating different health professions. If you are a healthcare practitioner and wish to provide services using a special title, you will need to be registered under the HCPA with the relevant responsible authority. Special titles include:

  • medical practitioner;
  • nurse;
  • midwife; 
  • dentist; and 
  • pharmacist.

You must also obtain and maintain an annual practising certificate from the responsible authority.

In addition, once you have obtained registration, you must only work within the prescribed scope of practice when performing healthcare services that are part of your profession. Your scope of practice means the activities that you are permitted to perform within your specific profession. There are some exceptions to this, such as if you perform health services in an emergency or in the course of an: 

  • examination;
  • assessment; or
  • competence review required or ordered by the responsible authority.

As a registered health practitioner, you must ensure that you continue to maintain your competence by meeting the minimum continual professional development requirements.

Responsible Authorities

The Medical Council of New Zealand is the authority which regulates doctors in New Zealand. However, there are currently sixteen other responsible authorities, which regulate other health professionals, such as:

  • chiropractors;
  • physiotherapists;
  • nurses;
  • midwives;
  • dieticians; and 
  • podiatrists.

Responsible authorities have a number of functions.

For example, they:

  • authorise registration of health practitioners; 
  • consider applications for annual practising certificates;
  • review and promote the competence of health practitioners;
  • prescribe the qualifications required for scopes of practice with the profession; and 
  • accredit and monitor educational institutions that offer such qualifications.

In addition, responsible authorities set the standard of clinical and cultural competence, consider cases of practitioners who may be unable to perform the functions required for that profession and notifies relevant authorities if a health practitioner poses a risk of harm to the public. 

What Happens if I Don’t Comply With the Legal Requirements?

If you do not comply with your legal obligations as a health practitioner, you may be required to:

  • pay a penalty;
  • be subject to disciplinary proceedings; or 
  • have your registration cancelled or suspended.

If a complaint is made about you, the relevant responsible authority may take action to assure you are competently and safely practising your profession. If there is a question as to the appropriateness of the conduct or safety of your practice, the responsible authority may refer this information to a professional conduct committee. However, if you want to challenge a decision made in relation to your practice by your regulatory authority, you can do so through an appeal and review process. 

Where a complaint is in relation to your practice or conduct affecting a health consumer, it may be referred (or made directly) to the New Zealand Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC). The HDC, which is the body responsible for promoting and protecting patient rights, may investigate a complaint made against you to determine whether you have breached the law or not. A finding made against you by the HDC may lead to disciplinary proceedings against you in the Human Rights Review Tribunal. 

Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal

In some cases, a charge may be made against you before the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (Tribunal). The Tribunal is an independent body that hears and determines disciplinary proceedings brought against health practitioners, including doctors and other health professionals. In general, a professional conduct committee or the Director of Proceedings of the Health and Disability Commission will file a charge against a health practitioner in the Tribunal.

If the Tribunal makes a finding that you are, for example, guilty of professional misconduct, you have practised while not holding a current practising certificate, or you have failed to observe any condition included in your scope of practice, you may be subject to one of the following penalties:

  • cancellation or suspension of your registration;
  • imposition of conditions as to employment or supervision or your practice;
  • censure; or
  • a fine not exceeding $30,000.

If a penalty is imposed on you by the Tribunal, you have 20 working days from the date of the decision in which to file an appeal in the High Court.

Unlike some other countries, such as Australia and the United States, medical negligence claims in New Zealand are uncommon. That is because, in New Zealand, the Accident Compensation Scheme or ACC Scheme provides compensation for medical treatment injury on a no-fault basis. The ACC Scheme also limits an individual’s rights to sue for damages arising out of medical negligence or personal injury.

Key Takeaways

Health professionals in New Zealand need to follow a number of key regulations. If you do not follow these regulations, you could face consequences, including tribunal proceedings. If you need advice about your legal obligations as a health practitioner in New Zealand, contact LegalVision’s regulatory and compliance lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

FAQs

What is the key law regulating New Zealand health professionals?

In New Zealand, the Health Practitioner Competence Assurance Act 2003 (HCPA) regulates health practitioners. The purpose of this law is to protect the health and safety of health consumers by ensuring health practitioners are competent and fit to practise their health professions.

What happens if I don’t comply with the legal requirements?

If you do not comply with the legal requirements of being a health professional, you will need to either pay a penalty, face disciplinary proceedings or have your registration cancelled or suspended.

What is the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal?

The Tribunal is an independent body that hears and determines disciplinary proceedings brought against health practitioners. In general, a professional conduct committee or the Director of Proceedings of the Health and Disability Commission will file a charge against a health practitioner in the Tribunal.

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