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We hold many records from the publicly funded health institutions in Canterbury and Westland. These include the former Health Department District Offices (and their latest incarnations as Crown Public Health, and now Community and Public Health), the Hospital and Charitable Aid Boards and their successors the District Health Boards and Crown Health Entities, and the health institutions directly under their control. We also hold records from institutions formerly directly controlled by the government such as the psychiatric hospitals and Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer. We also hold health-related records from a number of other government departments such as the National Radiation Laboratory, and the Department of Education.

We do not hold records from private institutions or individual medical practitioners. We do however hold records relating to some orphanages, refuges and other charitable aid institutions controlled by the Hospital Boards for a period. For more information about these institutions please refer to our Charitable Aid and Social Welfare Records guide.

Because the Hospital Boards and their successors were not originally under the Archives Act, the health records we do hold have come to us in a sometimes haphazard and accidental way, and many records have been destroyed in the past. Among the mass of health records that have come to us, only a small proportion deal with medical information about individuals. This guide focuses on patient information, if you are interested in records about public health staff, it is best to conduct a search of Archway. Christchurch Nursing School files are listed by name; for other staff records it is often a case of searching through the registers or administrative files of a particular institution.

Patient information

These records are largely registers of various kinds, recording patients’ admission to an institution, and their eventual discharge or death, and can contain information about a patient’s occupation, religion, address, nationality, and occupation of parents. They do not always contain information about the illness or injury. These are sometimes supplemented by related registers from individual units of the institution; for example, operations registers and casualty room registers. Other large series of registers were created to keep track of fees owed to the institution by patients. Whilst all of these registers can provide interesting genealogical information, (fees registers from Christchurch Public, for example, provide the name, occupation, nature of illness, locality, and age of the patient), they do not provide very much, if any, information about the medical condition of the patient or the treatment that they received. Beyond the registers, useful information may be found in case books or individual patients’ files. Refer to this fact sheet for hospital patient files which have been transferred to us.

We hold an extensive number of patient case files from Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital for patients admitted between 1865 and 1973, from Seaview Psychiatric Hospital for patients admitted between 1892 and 1988, and Queen Mary Hospital for patients admitted between 1943 and 1973. The files from Queen Mary include both military and civilian patients, although the active duty military files have themselves been purged of all but the admissions slips and miscellaneous correspondence. Civilian files, and those of ex-servicemen and women, are unexpurgated and as a result contain substantially more information. Bear in mind that patients’ records have been routinely destroyed by the hospitals in the past, a practice likely to continue under current health disposal authorities.

Indexes/finding aids/ordering items to view

Many of the registers are self-indexed, or have a series of indexes within our holdings. In addition, some items have been nominally indexed on our in-house database. An asterisk within a record description indicates that an in-house index is available for the record.

Unrestricted items can be ordered for viewing in our reading room via our online holdings database and ordering system, Archway. If you have permission to view restricted material (see Access, below), then please provide evidence of this to the Desk Archivist, who will assist you to order the item(s), where possible.


Access to medical records on individuals in restricted for 100 years from the date of filing.

This access restriction covers all patient records held by our Christchurch archive even if the record is your own. Responsibility for administering access under the Public Records Act 2005 falls to the agency that created the records (or its successor). Permission to access patient records is given by the Privacy Officer or Manager of the District Health Board responsible for them.

Should you be granted access permission to restricted records, a confirmation letter will be sent both to you, and to us. On receipt of this letter, please contact us. Depending on the nature of the records, we will conduct research into these on your behalf, or arrange for you to view them in our reading room, where possible.

Who do I write to in order to request access permission?

Records from Canterbury and West Coast Hospitals:

Greg Brogden

Senior Corporate Solicitor Canterbury District Health Board

P.O. Box 1600

Christchurch 8140.


Records from South Canterbury Hospitals:

Privacy Officer

South Canterbury District Health Board

Private Bag 911

Timaru 7940

Canterbury Hospitals

South Canterbury Hospitals

West Coast Hospitals

Additional mental health material from the courts

Compulsory mental health assessment and treatment orders can also be found in the Domestic/Family Proceedings Files series from the Magistrates’/District and Family Courts of the Canterbury and Westland regions, dating from the 1970s onwards, ask an archivist for more information.


Access to the above court files is restricted for 100 years from file closure. Permission to access may be obtained from:

Christchurch High Court (for Supreme Court material) or Christchurch District Court (for Magistrate’s Court material)