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Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

IV: Recruitment of Skilled Personnel

IV: Recruitment of Skilled Personnel

Generally speaking, there was no controlled recruitment of skilled personnel whose services were valuable to medical units, apart from masseurs, prior to the establishment of the National Service Department in the middle of 1940. Those more particularly concerned were chemists, laboratory technicians and X-ray technicians. As regards other valuable and necessary staff (especially for a military hospital) such as dietitians, cooks, occupational therapists, splint-makers, chiropodists, mental attendants, plumbers and carpenters, no special arrangements seem to have been made at any stage for their proper drafting in adequate proportions to medical units.

With the introduction of the National Service Emergency Regulations in 1940, employers and institutions were able in the public interest to present a case on appeal against skilled personnel joining the armed services. There was also then a greater measure of control which enabled those released to the Army to be posted to a medical unit, where they could best be utilised.


In November 1939 the National Medical Committee considered it desirable to set up a masseurs sub-committee, as masseurs would be required for military hospitals with our overseas force, and also for the treatment of wounded returned to New Zealand. With the approval of the Minister of Health a sub-committee was appointed, its functions being those of compiling a register of masseurs wishing to enlist, reporting on their capabilities and fitness for selection, and giving general advice on matters relating to massage.

The members of the committee were the Head of the Massage School at Dunedin Hospital (representing the Department of Health) and a male and a female representative of the New Zealand Trained Masseurs' Association. When an inspecting masseuse was added to the staff of the Health Department in 1941 in connection with the arrangements for treatment in public hospitals of wounded returning from overseas, she was added to the sub-committee.

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The sub-committee made nominations for the selection of two masseuses to go overseas with each general hospital. Those selected were granted the rank of staff nurse in the NZANS. Altogether ninety-eight physiotherapists offered their services as volunteers.

The masseurs sub-committee was mainly a selection committee and, with the very limited number of masseurs required for service with the armed forces, it was necessary for it to meet on only a few occasions.

There was a shortage of trained massage staff in New Zealand, and when masseurs were called up for National Service, the Health Department lodged appeals as a matter of course for their retention in New Zealand in the hospital services.


In the months immediately after the outbreak of war a number of pharmacists enlisted in the armed forces and many of these were mobilised in units other than medical. The Director of Pharmacy, of the Department of Industries and Commerce, in February 1940 sent out a questionnaire to enable a survey to be made of the position. He also pointed out that the requirements of the Medical Corps in New Zealand at that time were four dispensers only, but that in addition two would probably proceed overseas with each echelon. There was also the possibility that there would be a demand for experienced men to carry on the necessary dispensary services under the Social Security administration.

It was found that 21 persons employed in pharmacy had then been accepted for service and a further 14 were awaiting acceptance. These facts were considered by the Medical Committee on 19 March 1940. The committee viewed with alarm the depletion of chemists and judged as undesirable the practice of accepting chemists for combatant units. It was thought that the original purpose of the Manpower Committee should be adhered to, whereby the profession was classed as a reserved occupation. These views were communicated to the Director of the Registration Branch, Social Security Department (who shortly afterwards became Director of National Service). Manpower District Advisory Committees were at that time being set up to deal with individual applications of employers for the postponement of military service of their employees, and also to administer the Government's policy in relation to manpower. No occupation or industry was to be regarded as completely or permanently reserved, but ample time would be given to train or secure replacements as the occasion merited. It was arranged that all enlistments of pharmacists be referred to the Director of Pharmacy for his recommendation.

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In July 1940 the Director of Pharmacy informed the National Medical Committee that 45 pharmacy personnel had been called up and a further 37 enlisted, and that if all who had enlisted were eventually called up, difficulties would be created. This return did not include qualified persons drawn from hospital dispensaries or employers other than pharmacy owners. The National Medical Committee recommended to the Director of National Service that no more pharmacists be called up for military service except as dispensers in the Army Medical Corps. Arrangements were made by the Director of National Service accordingly, and recruitment from the profession was therefore fully controlled.

Representations were on occasions made by the Health Department in support of applications coming before the Armed Services Appeal Boards, when the Department was requested for its opinion by the board concerned, through the Director of National Service.

This latter procedure also applied in the case of laboratory and X-ray technicians.