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War Surgery and Medicine

Arrangements in New Zealand

Arrangements in New Zealand

In the selection of recruits for overseas service no special stress was laid on the problem of mental instability until reports came back from 2 NZEF that men who had previously been in mental hospitals had been taken overseas. Arrangements were then made to have the names of all men accepted for the forces submitted to the Mental Hospitals Department for checking up, so as to eliminate any man known by the Department to be unsuitable.

No provision was made for the psychiatric examination of recruits, and the Mental Hospitals Department considered this undesirable, as well as impracticable, owing to shortness of qualified staff. Psychiatrists were available if necessary for consultation. A psychiatrist was appointed to act in a consultant capacity for cases referred from military camps, and by this means many unsuitable recruits were eliminated from the forces.

War Cabinet, at a meeting on 18 October 1940, decided that early provision be made for the reception and treatment of neurasthenics and cases of a like nature on their return to New Zealand. A special conference of the Organisation for National Security was held on 24 October 1940 and submitted a report to Cabinet covering the question. This report, which was approved, stressed the necessity of full and accurate case histories, and recommended the setting up of a specialist medical board to include psychiatrists to examine all such cases on arrival in New Zealand from overseas and arrange for their disposal and treatment.

All cases requiring institutional treatment were to be admitted to the psychiatric wards of the public hospitals in the four main centres, and other cases were to be referred to psychiatric clinics near their home town. Admission to a mental hospital was to be arranged for when necessary. Cases not likely to be fit for return to duty were to be discharged from the forces and arrangements made for rehabilitation. The report was strongly opposed to the segregation of service personnel in special institutions and advised page 632 their admission to the ordinary civil mental hospitals. This report was forwarded to Medical Headquarters 2 NZEF, and the DDMS, commenting on it, stated that up to the end of 1940, 36 cases of anxiety neurosis had been admitted to hospital, of whom 20 had been returned to New Zealand.