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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Hospital Treatment-Convalescent Depots and Camp Hospitals

Hospital Treatment-Convalescent Depots and Camp Hospitals

There seemed to be a lack of appreciation by the Health Department of the problem of the convalescent soldier. Civil hospitals were not accustomed to arrange for the convalescence of patients suffering from ordinary illness. These were expected to convalesce at home. It was only in the more serious illnesses and in special conditions demanding prolonged treatment that any provision at all was made. When the Health Department originally arranged for the use of Hanmer and Rotorua, it envisaged the treatment of returned wounded men and not sickness cases from New Zealand camps. These cases, in its opinion, required no special provision. They were sent back to their units in camp at the end of their period of sick leave at their homes. The necessity for hardening up after a debilitating illness before being subjected to the conditions of a military camp was simply not understood. This, of course, was quite contrary to the military outlook.

The hospitals discharged the military patients to their homes for varying periods of sick leave before returning to camp, and this leave could be extended on the certificate of their local doctor. The inevitable happened, and the military authorities found that great wastage of personnel was occurring and that they could not check up on the men scattered all over the country. This led to the setting up of a ‘Sick and Wounded Branch’, which was placed directly under the Adjutant-General, to check up on and control all unattached army personnel. The Branch took over medical as well as administrative functions, and there was some difficulty caused by its lack of medical knowledge and co-ordination. The appointment later of a senior medical officer to the Branch for consultation led to improved control in matters requiring professional knowledge.

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The Army eventually built three convalescent depots to attempt to supply a more complete medical chain, but they were not completed until 1942 and 1943 and did not receive a great many of the patients discharged from hospital. The depot built for the Central District was given over to the Americans before it functioned as a convalescent depot. The civil hospitals were used for sick and wounded returned from overseas, and the Army had no military hospitals of its own at any stage, except for small hospitals in mobilisation camps.

For the admission of minor sick, small camp hospitals with the most modern equipment were erected in the three main mobilisation camps, Papakura, Trentham, and Burnham, each having accommodation for thirty to fifty patients. Each had an establishment of five members of the NZANS, two officers, and twenty-five other ranks. (Prior to the completion of Papakura camp in 1940, a camp hospital at Ngaruawahia was similarly staffed.) The amount of accommodation and the size of the staffs were increased during the war.