Every consumer of health and disability services in Aotearoa New Zealand has a set of rights protected under law. These rights ensure you receive fair and ethical treatment when accessing health and disability services. In this section you can explore your rights as a consumer, learn about the establishment of these rights in New Zealand, and find out what to do if you feel your rights have been violated.
The Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights grants a set of rights to all consumers of health and disability services in New Zealand, and places obligations on the providers of those services. This means that when you access a health or disability service in New Zealand, your provider must ensure each of the following criteria are met.
Your rights when using a health and disability service are:
- Right 1: The right to be treated with respect. Being treated with respect includes having your privacy respected and having access to a service which is responsive to your individual needs, values and beliefs, and respects different cultural, religious, social or ethnic groups, including Māori.
- Right 2: The right to freedom from discrimination, coercion, harassment, and exploitation.
- Right 3: The right to dignity and independence.
- Right 4: The right to services of an appropriate standard. You have the right to receive services which are provided with reasonable care and skill, comply with industry standards, minimize harm, and support continuity across different services.
- Right 5: The right to effective communication. Effective communication involves ensuring you can be communicated with in your preferred manner, therefore you have the right to bring an interpreter. You also have the right for your health care provider to communicate openly and honestly with you.
- Right 6: The right to be fully informed. You have the right to an honest and accurate explanation of your condition, available treatment paths, and the results of tests and procedures.
- Right 7: The right to make an informed choice and give informed consent. Making an informed choice means that you have been given all the information necessary to consent to a procedure or service. It also means you can change your mind about which services or procedures you have agreed to.
- Right 8: The right to support. You may bring one or more support people of your choice, unless where safety may be compromised.
- Right 9: To have all these rights apply if you are asked to take part in a research study or teaching session for training staff
- Right 10: The right to complain and have your complaint taken seriously
Who must follow these rights?
The Code covers any person or organisation providing a health service to the public whether that service is paid for or not. The Code therefore covers all registered health professionals, such as doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, as well as alternative practitioners such as naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, and massage therapists. As well as applying to individual providers, the Code also applies to hospitals and other health and disability institutions. Regarding disability services, it extends to goods, services, and facilities provided to people with disabilities for their care or support, or to promote their independence. Some health and disability services may provide information on consumer responsibilities when using those services however there are no laws regarding consumer responsibilities in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Health Consumer/Patient Rights in New Zealand
New Zealand has led the world in giving health and disability services consumer rights the force of law. The Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights (The Code) came into force on 1 July 1996, two years after the Heath and Disability Commissioner Act (The Act) which established the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner. As described by the first appointed Health and Disability Commissioner, Robyn Stent, the Act and the Code are “tools” to ensure that health and disability consumer protection in New Zealand does not depend on the changeable priorities of individual providers as it did in the past but is subject to a consistent and fair standard throughout the health and disability sector.1
Establishment of consumer rights
The establishment of the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner, and the passing into law of the Code of Rights, were two of the significant outcomes of the 1988 Cervical Cancer Inquiry, known as the Cartwright Inquiry after the presiding Judge Sylvia Cartwright. The Inquiry, and subsequent report, is credited with leading to a major overhaul of medical practices and health care ethics in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Health and Disability Commissioner
The Health and Disability Commissioner Act created the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner. The Commissioner was given the role of promoting and protecting the rights of health and disability services consumers, and facilitating the fair, simple, speedy, and efficient resolution of complaints. Alongside a Commissioner, the Act also established a national network of independent advocates, under a Director of Advocacy, and an independent prosecutor, the Director of Proceedings. The complaint mechanisms under the Health and Disability Commissioner Act have become the primary vehicle for dealing with complaints about the quality of health care and disability services in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Concerns about your care?
There are multiple pathways for raising concerns about the care you, or someone else, has received when using a health or disability service in Aotearoa New Zealand. You can raise concerns directly with the provider although this can be challenging and is not always appropriate. For information about self-advocacy visit the Health and Disability Commission website.
Making an online complaint
If you wish to make a complaint about a provider or service you can contact the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner. You can make your complaint by completing the online form. Once you have made your complaint it will be assigned a Complaints Assessor and your complaint will be put through the complaints process.
Requesting an advocate
There are Health and Disability Advocates available through the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner to assist you. The advocacy service can give you more information about your rights when using health and disability services, assist you in making a complaint, or help you find an independent advocate. They can also give you tips on self-advocacy.
Leaving feedback for district health boards
All District Health Boards have internal pathways for obtaining feedback on services and consumer complaints. See the website for your local District Health Board or locate your District Health Board through the Healthpoint website for more information.
Issues with your midwife
If your concerns involve the care provided by a Lead Maternity Carer midwife, you can contact the New Zealand College of Midwives’ Resolutions Committee. This is a free service that aims to provide a neutral, accessible, confidential and supportive service that provides a first point of contact for women who wish to discuss concerns or ask questions about their care.
You can contact ACC directly if you believe you have suffered an injury as a result of treatment provided.
Concerns about your privacy
The privacy of your health information is protected under New Zealand law. The rules governing the use, storage and disclosure of your health information are set out in the Health Information Privacy Code. You can contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner if you are concerned about the privacy of your health information. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner can give you information about making a complaint.
If you feel that you have been discriminated against in the course of receiving a health and disability service it may be appropriate to make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. The prohibited grounds for discrimination as set out in the Human Rights Act are age, colour, disability, employment status, ethical belief, ethnic or national origins, family status, marital status, political opinion, race and racial harassment, religious belief, sex and sexual harassment, and sexual orientation.
Stent, R. 1999. ‘The role of the Health and Disability Commissioner and the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights’. Retrieved from hdc.org.nz – Health and Disability Commissioner