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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Shortage of Medical Officers

Shortage of Medical Officers

The shortage of medical officers in 2 NZEF now became so acute that difficulty was experienced in maintaining a satisfactory service. The position was discussed by Brigadier Kenrick with General Freyberg on 5 July 1944 and the latter asked for a written report on the situation. The GOC then took up the matter with the Minister of Defence, stating that it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the high standard of treatment usual in 2 NZEF. Up till that time 2 NZEF had endeavoured to meet New Zealand requirements and had sent back experienced doctors to meet urgent demands in the Pacific and at home. Knowing the difficulties, 2 NZEF had carried on without replacements as best it could, but it was felt that numbers were now below the safety line.

Allowing for the arrival of four medical officers with the 12th Reinforcements, there was a deficiency of eighteen medical officers on the establishments of medical units. In addition, it was desirable to have a surplus of at least five to make provision for leave, sickness, and special detachments. Since 2 NZEF had been overseas seventy-eight medical officers had been returned to New Zealand or the United Kingdom, and the number then being returned was exceeding the number of replacements arriving.

In the operations near Florence in July and August the shortage of medical officers was such that the field ambulance in reserve had always to ‘lend’ all its medical officers but two to the two field ambulances admitting battle casualties and sick respectively.

(With the return of 3 NZ Division to New Zealand from the Pacific in the latter half of 1944 more medical officers were made available for service in 2 NZEF in Egypt and Italy, some being flown to the Middle East in August, others arriving in HS Maunganui page 577 in September, and eighteen arriving with the 13th Reinforcements on 5 November. These, however, could not make good the heavy loss of experienced surgeons and senior administrative officers with long experience in the force.)

At this period there arose a marked deficiency in the numbers of medical specialists in 2 NZEF. This was partly due to the wastage of medical officers through sickness and invaliding to New Zealand, and partly to the employment of specialists in administrative posts in the divisional medical units. In January 1944 no orthopaedic surgeons were available. Of the original three attached to the base hospitals, two had been invalided to New Zealand, and the other, after he had gone home on furlough, had been retained in New Zealand to look after the amputees. It can be realised how serious a deficiency this was when so many serious fracture cases were being treated in the hospitals. In May there was an acute shortage of ophthalmologists, ear, nose and throat surgeons, and radiologists, and urgent representations were made to New Zealand to send replacements to the Middle East. There were at that time two ophthalmologists (one of them having been obtained from the RAMC from England), two ENT specialists, and no relieving radiologist for four hospitals. In Italy it became necessary to concentrate the specialist cases in the hospital where the particular medical specialist was available.