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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

National Medical Committee

National Medical Committee

In the years immediately preceding the Second World War, however, valuable planning had been made on a national basis by a Medical Committee working under the Organisation for National Security, which had grown out of the New Zealand Committee for Imperial Defence. To ensure the co-ordination of all preparations for any future war, the New Zealand Committee for Imperial Defence held its first conference in Wellington on 15 November 1933. Besides the armed services, a number of key Government departments were represented as the planning involved a wide range of the State's activities. The name of this committee was changed in August 1936 to the Organisation for National Security.

The Committee for Imperial Defence in 1934 appointed a Manpower Committee to deal with the problem of manpower in war. One of the problems to which this committee turned its attention was the standardisation of medical examinations so that men could be properly classified prior to acceptance in the armed services. In 1936 a medical sub-committee was set up to consider this and other medical subjects associated with a national emergency.

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This committee held its first meeting on 19 June 1936, when it was known as the Medical Sub-committee of the New Zealand Committee for Imperial Defence. After its sixth meeting it was designated as the Medical Committee of the Organisation for National Security, and continued as such until 1940, when its activities came under the National Service Emergency Regulations 1940. It then became the National Medical Committee, an advisory body to the Minister of Health, and, strangely enough, was divorced from the National Service Department, which undertook many of the duties of the Organisation for National Security. The committee functioned very efficiently throughout the war, holding its final meeting on 21 September 1945, and had a profound influence on the medical services of the Dominion.

The membership of the committee remained constant from its inception to its dissolution, comprising Dr M. H. Watt, Director-General of Health (chairman), Major-General Sir Donald McGavin, representing the British Medical Association, Colonel (later Major-General Sir Fred) Bowerbank, Director-General of Medical Services (Army and Air), and Mr F. J. Fenton of the Department of Health, with a secretary from Army Department whose duties were taken over by Mr Fenton.

In general terms, the committee was set up to organise the medical examination of recruits, the care of sick and wounded of the forces, and the medical care of the civilian population in any state of emergency.