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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

2 NZ General Hospital, Helwan

2 NZ General Hospital, Helwan

When 2 General Hospital took over from 4 General Hospital on 8 October there were 472 equipped beds and 448 patients. During the following week two more wards were opened up, bringing the page 72 number of available beds to 559. It was fortunate that this increase was possible just at that time, for there was a steady rise in the number of patients due to the departure of a brigade of 6 Australian Division from Helwan and the need for the Australians to transfer their sick from their camp hospital; and also to an increase in the number of cases of dysentery from both the Western Desert and Maadi Camp, where the Third Echelon had arrived early in October. On 30 October there were 533 patients, of whom 160 were Australians. Medical outnumbered surgical cases on an average of about two to one.

The number of patients rose to a peak of 586 on 1 November, but the bed state fell steadily to 458 at the end of the month with an easing of tension for all departments. Most of the construction work in the hospital was then finished and the staff had become accustomed to hospital routine. Admissions for the month totalled 825 and discharges 863.

It was not until December that the theatre block was functioning. This block was well designed and of ample size to cope with all the work offering, though all the surgical work was concentrated at Helwan pending the erection of the operating block at Helmieh several months later.

The sanitary arrangements of the Grand Hotel building were quite unsuited to cope with a large number of hospital patients. Soakage and cess-pits were in use, some of them under part of the buildings, and these became overfull, offensive, and a danger to health. A new drainage system was put in and the drainage from the wards piped into a septic tank, and the effluent taken out into the desert three-quarters of a mile from the hospital. Two wards used for intestinal cases were still drained into larger cesspits to enable disinfectants to be used. Thereafter sanitary conditions were quite satisfactory.

In December, following the offensive in the Western Desert, men of many nationalities were admitted: 130 British, 72 Australian, 494 New Zealand, 3 French, and 215 Italian prisoner-of-war patients. Actual battle casualties were 73 Allies and 102 Italians.

In January large convoys of patients arrived following the battles of both Bardia and Tobruk. More Australians than New Zealanders were admitted for the month—426 as against 416. On 31 January the number of patients totalled 656. A transfer of 90 Australians to an Australian general hospital was made on 25 February and this left only 38 Australians. February's admissions totalled 658.

By March the rush of the work consequent on the January convoys had slackened to a marked extent, added to which the hospital was serving only New Zealand troops; and, of these, the majority were on their way to Greece early in March.

page 73

The casualties from other forces admitted from the First Libyan Campaign and Tobruk included both light and serious cases. The closed plaster treatment was largely carried out at this period and sulphonamides were used both locally and parenterally. Little was done in the way of wound suture. The major fractures demanded much attention, and the presence of an orthopaedic surgeon on the staff of the hospital proved of great value. Very few deaths occurred among the battle casualties.

Of other surgical admissions, accidental injuries were relatively common both from road accidents and from games, especially football. Orthopaedic conditions of a minor nature were not uncommon, many being pre-war disabilities such as old osteomyelitic infections of the lower limb which were prone to break down in Egypt. There were also numerous cases of hammer toes, hallux valgus, and exostosis, many of which called for operative treatment.