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The New Zealand Dental Services

2. In the Pacific

2. In the Pacific

The Corps system of treatment was adopted in the Pacific but not without a struggle. There was no difficulty in Fiji, where the naval force was small, consisting of 23 officers and 132 ratings. Some were New Zealanders and others belonged to the Fiji Naval Volunteer Force, of whom 206 were natives. HMS Viti was the seagoing ship and the shore personnel belonged to HMS Venture. Full treatment for the Europeans and partial treatment for the natives was easily given by existing Army and Air Force dental sections. Details are given in the chapter on Fiji.

In the Solomons, however, there was a flotilla consisting of five ships, the Arabis, Arbutus, Matai, Tui and Kiwi. The base was situated in the Russell Islands under the name of HMNZS Kabu. Operating in the area was the No. 1 Mobile Dental Section of the RNZAF and the DDS intended to use this to treat HMNZS Kabu. Again the Navy failed to appreciate that there was a comprehensive dental service for all the New Zealand Armed Forces and attempted to make its own arrangements. What is more, it proposed an archaic and totally inadequate dental service which could not be justified except under conditions of the utmost urgency, and which constituted a definite menace to the health of the men. It was suggested by a surgeon-lieutenant (D) that the Sick Berth Attendants carried in the ships should be given lectures and practical instruction in the relief of dental pain, a supply of instruments and some written instructions. The Director of Naval Medical Services agreed and page 78 recorded his approval of the use of the Sick Berth Attendants as dental operators. Fortunately for the men of the Navy, the decision rested with the Director of Dental Services.

The surgeon-lieutenant is entitled to his views as to the capabilities of Sick Berth Attendants to carry out dental work but showed surprising disregard for service procedures. He submitted his scheme to the DDS through the Director of Naval Medical Services, implying that the latter had a right to be an intermediary in such correspondence, whereas his only right was in permitting his Sick Berth Attendants to be used in any other capacity than that in which they were trained. It was not his province to arrange for dental treatment of the flotilla without consultation with the DDS, and the surgeonlieutenant should have known that what he was suggesting was a danger to the men of the ships. Colonel Finn's reply was emphatic and unequivocal:

I have to inform you that the well-intentioned and prepared instructions and charts for the purpose of enabling Sick Berth Attendants to render urgent dental treatment to RNZN personnel cannot be approved.

It is pointed out to you that such procedure on the part of the rating would render him liable to prosecution for committing a breach of the ‘Dental Act’ 1937 which prohibits, as do service regulations, anyone other than a registered dental practitioner (or medical practitioner where the services of a dental practitioner are not available) from performing any dental operations in the oral cavity.

All Naval Officers in charge and Ships' Commanding Officers concerned are being notified that Number 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section NZDC is responsible for the dental treatment of RNZN personnel in the South West Pacific area, and that dental sub-sections are located throughout the New Hebrides, Solomons and Admiralty Islands, and have instructions to give every facility for dental treatment to RNZN personnel.

You are to take immediate steps to withdraw the instructions, dental instruments and authority for Sick Berth Attendants to undertake urgent dental treatment.