Urgent care in New Zealand

The branch of urgent care

Urgent care is the branch of medicine that covers the treatment of accidents and urgent medical problems in the community.

Of the 36 branches of medicine recognised by the Medical Council of New Zealand, urgent care is the 12th largest by Fellow numbers (similar in size to orthopaedic surgery and public health), and the second largest by face-to-face patient consultations.

The Royal New Zealand College of Urgent Care is responsible for training doctors and maintaining professional standards in urgent care.

Urgent care facilities

Urgent care clinics provide non-appointment care. Patients present with acute injuries or illnesses and are prioritised on arrival. Clinics are typically open seven days, from 8am until at least 8pm. They are equipped and staffed to manage urgent medical problems and accidents, and offer x-ray, fracture clinics, a slit lamp for eye conditions, and complex wound management facilities.

Almost all urgent care clinics are accredited against RNZCUC’s Urgent Care Standard, which sets and checks standards of equipment, staffing, systems and policies.

The impact of urgent care

There are around 2.5 million urgent care patient consultations per annum in New Zealand (or around 15% of total primary care doctor presentations), according to RNZCUC and Ministry of Health estimates.

Urgent care clinics treat some conditions that are also managed in emergency departments, and statistics indicate cities with urgent care clinics have significantly lower emergency department attendance. New Zealand is the first country in which urgent care was recognised as a branch, and it has the lowest rate of emergency department attendance per capita in the developed world. In Auckland, where there are more urgent care clinics per capita than elsewhere in New Zealand, emergency department attendance rates are significantly lower than in the rest of the country.

ED attendance rate per annum per 1,000 head-of-population (Clearwater, 2014)

England / Canada / USA 400-450
Australia 330
New Zealand 230
Auckland <200

The experience overseas has been similar, for example, in Israel, where the Ministry of Health published a study indicating a significant reduction in hospital ER visits per capita in area where urgent care clinics operate.