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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Base Medical Units

Base Medical Units

The epidemic of infective hepatitis placed a big strain on base medical units, particularly 1 General Hospital and also 2 General Hospital, 1 Camp Hospital, and 1 Convalescent Depot. On 2 October there were over 1000 patients in hospital at Helwan; on the 4th there were 1149 patients, by the 8th 1256, on the 11th 1288, until the highest total of 1327 in-patients was reached on 20 October. Extra tents were erected in ‘Spencerfield’ and jaundice patients admitted there direct, but large numbers of less seriously ill patients had to be transferred to Maadi Camp Hospital. With battle casualties and other admissions, 1 General Hospital had an average daily bed state for the month of October of 1136, the highest average ever reached by the hospital during the war. The course of infective hepatitis was mild, but complications seen were severe pruritis, haematemesis, persistent pyrexia, and prolonged icterus, with relapses within one or two weeks of discharge. One case which died of cholaemia was found at post-mortem to have a paratyphoid C infection of the gall bladder.

Within a short time of becoming established at Kfar Vitkin, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, in April 1942, 1 Convalescent Depot entered a period of maximum expansion as convalescent wounded and infective hepatitis patients reached the unit from hospital. With the wounded there was a large number with lesions requiring daily dressings, while two stoves intended to cook for 250 men each were called upon to supply the cooking requirements of 700 per stove. Sisters and cooks from 2 General Hospital helped with these duties while the hospital was in Palestine. During August there was an average of 285 patients daily attending the medical treatment room. The peak number of 1423 patients was reached on 30 August. The number of convalescents in the depot page 370 remained fairly constant around 1100, with occasional drops after an evacuation train to 1000, until late in October.

The Convalescent Depot had to contend with a number of difficulties, especially when it had such a big influx of patients in August. It was a major problem to feed 1400 patients from limited cookhouses and long queues for meals were an inevitable result. Sleeping accommodation, too, was fairly primitive with only groundsheets and palliasses supplied, but the shortage of timber made it almost impossible to provide any bedboards or frames, although some beds and bedboards were procured in October. Sleeping accommodation at British convalescent depots was similar. At no time during the period of maximum expansion was there any disturbance of morale. The unit was reorganised at this time into five companies varying in strength from 200 to 250. The staff was but little augmented and all departments acquitted themselves remarkably well.