Although the control of medical supplies was more directly the responsibility of the Health Department, the Medical Supplies Controller, appointed on the outbreak of war, was answerable to the Minister of Supply, and the Ministry was involved in the procurement and distribution problems.page 138
To facilitate the accumulation of reserves, some degree of standardisation was necessary, and, with the assistance of the Pharmacological Committee of the Medical School of Otago University, the 2000 items normally stocked in New Zealand were reduced to a basic schedule of 600 requirements essential to the civilian population and the armed forces.
By December 1940, stocks of essential drugs and chemicals had increased a little, and, with a view to assisting wholesalers to build up a twelve months' reserve, discussions were held with the principal wholesale drug houses. As a result, blanket licences were issued to permit increased imports. At this time supplies from the United Kingdom were below New Zealand requirements. Delays in shipping and losses by enemy action added to the difficulties; in one case some £8000 worth of drugs and chemicals were lost in one bottom. Other markets were explored to the fullest possible extent, particularly in Canada, the United States, India and the Netherlands East Indies.
By March 1942, stocks of drugs were sufficient to last six months. By then the extension of existing facilities and the erection of emergency hospitals was making heavy calls for equipment, but all were supplied with essential needs at least. Much of the metal and enamel hospital-ware had to come from Australia, whose own needs were considerable, and there was difficulty in getting sufficient supplies.
During the next two years, the problems of supply changed so often and so rapidly that the responsibilities of the Ministry had to be extended to include procurement under Lend-Lease, bulk ordering by means of Government-to-Government requests, and sponsorship of private orders. With the advent of Lend-Lease supplies and bulk orders, the Ministry had to supervise distribution. The extremely critical drugs, such as bismuth, anti-malarials, menthol, permanganate of potash, and glycerophosphates, and rubber dental and surgical appliances required close supervision to make sure that they reached users who required them primarily for medical purposes. Many materials in short supply were closely controlled at different times, under the Medical Supplies Emergency Regulations 1939.
There was, as we have seen, an improvement in supplies generally in 1943, but in 1944 distribution of the following drugs was still restricted by the Controller to prescriptive use only, owing, particularly in the case of quinine and bismuth, to a world shortage: menthol, natural and synthetic; caffeine and its salts; quinine and its salts; dextrose; bismuth and its salts and sulfonamides.
The Medical Supplies Section of the Ministry of Supply was disbanded on 1 December 1945.
4 Based on information obtained from War History narrative 90/1, Ministry of Supply, and from Parliamentary Paper H–38, Activities of the Ministry of Supply in Relation to the War, 1940, p. 9.