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War Surgery and Medicine

Formation of a Mobile VD Treatment Centre

Formation of a Mobile VD Treatment Centre

During 1943 these difficulties of treatment of VD cases on the long line of evacuation during the victorious North African campaign led to a consideration of the advisability of making 102 VD Treatment Centre a mobile unit. British forces did not have an establishment for a mobile VDTC,1 but Colonel Lees, Adviser in Venereology, was favourably disposed to the idea. Such a unit page 603 could effect a big saving of manpower by enabling the earlier return of men to their units.

In a memorandum of 6 August 1943, Major Platts, 6 Field Ambulance, set out the advantages of a mobile unit, including (a) the provision of efficient and standardised treatment throughout 2 NZ Division, whereas individual medical units lacked specialist personnel and equipment, and used different drugs; (b) the ensurance of the necessary regular treatment for syphilis outpatients; (c) a smoothing-out of some of the difficulties of distant control from Base. He proposed that the projected unit travel as a ‘limpet’ establishment and be normally attached to an open MDS. It could undertake all VD treatments and surveillance and final tests of cure in divisional troops, keep a current roll of all those on treatment, and if the occasion arose could act as a VD Treatment Hospital by borrowing beds from its parent unit.

The matter was immediately followed up by DMS 2 NZEF, and CO 2 General Hospital and Officer i/c 102 VDTC were in agreement with the proposal. The latter, Captain N. C. Begg, pointed out that on the long line of evacuation from Tunisia cases of gonorrhoea had been made ‘sulpha-resistant’ by only occasional doses of sulphapyridine, mild cases of urethritis had recovered before reaching the treatment centre, and sores had healed, making it difficult to clinch a diagnosis in the case of syphilis. The CO 2 General Hospital suggested that there was an analogy with the mobile surgical team attached to the MDS, where it had been proved necessary to have independent equipment, transport, and staff.

On this basis, and with the approval of GOC 2 NZEF, application was made for a war establishment to be issued and authority given for 102 NZ VDTC to adopt it in order that it might act as a mobile unit to accompany 2 NZ Division in any future move to a theatre of active operations. The mobile treatment centre was established at the end of August with Captain Begg as OC.

The unit was therefore established and equipped in time to proceed to Italy with the Division in October 1943. Here it had a wide sphere of usefulness, as VD incidence in Italy generally was high and measures for control could not easily be enforced. The unit found itself steadily busy in Italy, where it was usually attached to the Field Ambulance MDS taking sickness cases. Here it was possible to hold up to twelve or fifteen inpatients, and yet the unit was forward enough for outpatients to report from their units. This meant a considerable saving of manpower to the Division.

Patients provided a problem when the unit had to move. This was overcome by an advanced section, consisting of the OC, page 604 sergeant, and driver, proceeding in the 15–cwt. truck to the new site and setting up, while the balance of the unit acted as a nursing section for three or four days until patients were fit to return to their units, or else were evacuated, and then this group moved forward to join up with the advance section.

The 3–ton truck was efficiently and ingeniously fitted up as a laboratory and the 15–cwt. as an office where the medical officer could interview patients. The 15–cwt. truck was also used for carrying stores and for other QM duties. Blankets and socks were carried for men admitted straight from the line, but all other clothing and stores were obtained through the parent Field Ambulance. It was often necessary to carry up to a week's reserve of rations as well as stocks of petrol and kerosene, so that when the unit was on the move its limited transport was taxed to the utmost.

1 British forces had a VD treatment team incorporated in the CCS in Italy, i.e., as a Corps' unit.