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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Administrative Policy for Sick and Wounded

Administrative Policy for Sick and Wounded

In drawing up his Medical Appreciation for the Defence of New Zealand of 31 March 1939, the Director of Medical Services, using the Cabinet decision of 7 February 1938 as a basis, made certain further recommendations. Among these was the suggestion that ‘in order to facilitate administration and personal contacts between Health Department and Army generally, it would be well to confer honorary military rank upon, for example, the Director-General of Health, Director of Hospitals, and medical superintendents of metropolitan hospitals’. Further, it was suggested in regard to discipline in hospitals that the local Area Officer would presumably assist the Medical Superintendent, where necessary, in the maintenance of discipline. The appreciation also stated that convalescent and medical board depots would be required on the basis of at least one per military district, assuming that, during a soldier's convalescent period, the Army would assist in making him fit to rejoin his unit. Though a responsibility of the Department of Health, these depots should have a military commandant (who was also a medical officer) to work in collaboration with the Health Department staff and be responsible for discipline; and military instructors in physical training who should, under the guidance of a medical board, refit the man physically.

However, when this appreciation was submitted to the Medical Committee, majority decisions favoured variations which the DMS considered would establish the very system of dual control he sought to avoid. It was the opinion of the Health Department officers, who constituted a majority on the Committee, that:


The matter of honorary military rank either for officers of the Department of Health or Superintendents of Hospitals should be left in abeyance.


Discipline in civilian hospitals amongst soldier patients could be as effectively maintained by civilian medical superintendents without military rank, though it was agreed that the local Area Officer was to be called in as required to deal with any breach of discipline.

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Convalescent and Medical Board Depots should have a civilian medical practitioner in command (preferably an officer in the reserve) as medical superintendent, but that such military liaison officers as were necessary would be attached for military purposes.

Within a few weeks of the outbreak of war it was necessary to make modifications in the general policy. The Director-General of Health was not prepared to accept for in-patient treatment soldiers suffering from venereal disease. In consequence of a ruling by the Minister of Health that such patients be treated in camp, contagious disease hospitals were erected in the three main camps (Papakura, Trentham, and Burnham) to deal with all cases of venereal disease from the Army and Air Force in the three military districts. This arrangement worked very satisfactorily.

The opinion expressed by a majority of the Medical Committee regarding the ability of the civilian staffs to maintain discipline unaided was quickly disproved, and the Army was asked to appoint full-time NCOs (but not of NZMC) at hospitals.

As a result of a War Council recommendation in 1940, Cabinet modified the original decision in regard to convalescent depots and ruled that these depots should be established and controlled by the Army. The Health Department was almost wholly an administrative body, its basic function being the preservation of health and the prevention of disease. It did not at the outset have a clear perception of the purpose of, or need for, convalescent depots to harden patients after discharge from hospital. Nor did it have the staff available for running convalescent depots, and the hospital boards were not prepared to accept the responsibility. Partly because convalescent depots were not available early in the war, it became the practice to send patients to their own homes for convalescence. The Army thus lost direct control of many of its men and there was a considerable wastage of manpower.1

1 The activities of the National Medical Committee will be further discussed in Vol III.