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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Medical Records Section

Medical Records Section

A major step in the organisation of a complete and efficient medical records section in 2 NZEF was taken in January 1942 when a non-professional NZMC officer was placed in charge of the section. Although Medical Records Section came under the control of A page 305 Branch, Headquarters 2 NZEF, as part of 2 Echelon, its work was of paramount interest to the senior officers of the Medical Corps, who desired that, to ensure efficient medical treatment, the file of a soldier's medical history should be complete. These officers were also interested in statistical returns from both the administration and medical treatment aspects, and were especially concerned that details should all be readily available later in New Zealand in connection with pension claims by individual soldiers.

This last point alone was sufficient to secure the organisation of an adequate medical records section for the AIF from the start of the war, following a deputation from the Returned Services League to the Australian Prime Minister, who gave an undertaking that full particulars in regard to a serviceman's medical history would be available on his return from overseas. The Canadian forces had a medical records branch in charge of a medical officer on the staff of the DDMS, and maintained a most thorough system of records. Experience in 2 NZEF tended to prove that this latter procedure was the most advisable and most workable one.

In 2 NZEF at first there was no special medical records section. The system operating in camp records offices in camps in New Zealand, whereby all personal records, medical and non-medical, were placed on the one individual file, was continued overseas. At a conference of senior medical officers of 2 NZEF, called by DDMS 2 NZEF on 2 December 1940, it was decided that a special medical records section should be established, that a history sheet (AFI 1220) should be filled in for every soldier admitted to hospital, and that a more complete medical history (on AFI 1237) be compiled for serious and important cases, including all cases which were medically boarded, and that a full medical record, including X-rays, pathological and specialist reports etc., should accompany a soldier returning to New Zealand as unfit.

On 9 March 1941 approval was given by Headquarters 2 NZEF for the establishment of a medical records section under the DAAG 2 Echelon. There was provision for a medical officer in charge, but none was available for the position.

When DDMS 2 NZEF inspected the section on 6 January 1942 he noted many deficiencies in its system, particularly as regards checking whether all New Zealand hospitals were furnishing adequately completed records for all patients. He therefore arranged for WO II Cawthorn,1 chief clerk to ADMS NZ Division, to be promoted to commissioned rank and put in charge of the section. Lieutenant Cawthorn organised and developed a simple and page 306 thorough method of recording hospital admissions, providing for the safe custody of medical documents and also enabling a statistical survey of the incidence of any particular disease or disability to be obtained with speed, accuracy, and a minimum of inconvenience.

When in the Middle East on 3 March 1943 Professor Zuckerman, Scientific Adviser to the War Office, visited the section to get data regarding missiles causing wounds and the parts of the body affected; he had been referred there on account of the high reputation of the section, and he expressed keen appreciation of the methods employed.

It would have been a decided advantage to have had a properly staffed and equipped medical statistics section set up and ready to operate with the First Echelon.

1 Lt R. W. Cawthorn, MBE; Wellington; born England, 3 Mar 1907; assurance officer; NCO 4 Fd Amb Oct 1939–1941; Office of ADMS 1941–42; Officer i/c Medical Records 1942–43; Medical Archivist (NZ) 1943–44.