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Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

XI: Medical Supplies in New Zealand, 1939–45

XI: Medical Supplies in New Zealand, 1939–45

The following brief outline relates to the steps taken by the Medical Supplies Controller within the Dominion during the war to obtain requirements of medical supplies from overseas and to conserve existing stocks.

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At the outbreak of war the Director-General of Health was appointed as Medical Supplies Controller, with the Medical Officers of Health in their respective districts as local controllers. Pharmacists were appointed to the staff of the Department in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin to visit wholesalers and to authorise and permit release of supplies from wholesale houses to retailers. An advisory committee consisting of representatives of the four principal importers of medical and surgical supplies was set up in Wellington. This committee met at irregular intervals and was consulted in all important matters.

Prior to the outbreak of war, restriction had been placed on imports of overseas goods, and reports from wholesalers at that time indicated that they were short of many essential supplies. As New Zealand is dependent for practically all medical requirements on overseas countries, the position was far from secure.

In July 1939 it was recommended that stocks of essential medical supplies in the Dominion should be increased so as to establish reserve stocks for emergency purposes. The matter was placed before the Ministry of Supply and was agreed to.

Import licences and the necessary sterling funds were made available and wholesalers and hospitals were encouraged to build up a year's reserve plus normal importations. It was found impossible to establish this reserve, as sufficient supplies could not be obtained from the United Kingdom.

Later the Supply Council directed that reserve stocks should be increased from one to two years' supply. This was agreed to by the trade, but was held up pending the clarification of proposals under the Lease-Lend Act. Eventually reserve stocks of drugs, dressings, surgical, dental, laboratory and X-ray equipment were received from the United States.

In view of the serious stock position frequent reminders were sent to medical practitioners, hospitals, pharmacists and departmental officers, stressing the need for economy in the use of all medical supplies. Articles were published in medical and trade journals indicating the growing need for the utmost care in the use of many articles hitherto obtainable without restriction.

Certain drugs in short supply were controlled by medical supplies notices published in the New Zealand Gazette. A committee was set up to compile a National Formulary for general use by medical practitioners throughout the Dominion. This formulary was compiled with a view to exercising the greatest possible economy in the use of drugs and to assist medical practitioners in economical and effective prescribing.

Investigations were made as to the possibility of manufacturing certain drugs in New Zealand. Committees were set up and the page 417 Department of Scientific and Industrial Research established herb farms at Hastings and Lower Hutt. Supplies of galenicals manufactured from New Zealand grown stramonium, hyoscyamus, digitalis and belladonna were used locally and a small quantity was exported. In May 1942 a factory was established in Auckland for the processing of fish livers for additional supplies of Vitamins A and D.

In July 1942 the Medical Supplies Controller and his deputy visited Australia to discuss with the Medical Equipment Control Committee the supply position regarding the release to this Dominion of medical, surgical and hospital supplies. The Medical Equipment Control Committee agreed to release from Australian sources supplies that could be spared and which were urgently required.

As a result of the action taken and the co-operation of suppliers, both local and overseas, it is gratifying to state that the Dominion was not at any time seriously affected by a shortage of any essential medical requirements.