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Thursday, 2 June 1949

Mr BARNARD (Bass) (Minister for Repatriation) .- On the 10th March last, the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) asked me a question about an ex-prisoner of war who, he said, had complained about alleged inefficiency and waste of time on the part of officials of the New South Wales branch of the Repatriation Department in attending to him and taking his application for medical treatment. The appropriate repatriation authority has reported to me on the alleged unsatisfactory handling of this case. The report reveals that the person to whom the honorable member referred in his question is a Mr. Davis. Mr. Davis applied at the New South Wales branch in Grace Building at 2 p.m. on the 8th March last for acceptance of a disability as being related to war service. When asking his question in this House, the honorable member for Parramatta gave the impression that Mr. Davis was filling in and signing forms for the whole of the time between 2 p.m. and 4.35 p.m. on the day in question. That statement, however, is not borne out by the facts which I shall mention at a later stage. The forms of application that Mr. Davis was asked to fill in and sign were similar to those which are completed by all applicants for medical benefits and pensions. The first application form, 20e, includes a medical report to be filled in by the doctor. The questionnaire sets out 21 simple questions, the first eight of which are -

1.   Full name.

2.   Full address.

3.   Date of birth.

4.   Place of birth.

5.   Regimental No. and unit.

6.   Date and place of enlistment.

7.   Date and place of discharge.

8.   If more than one enlistment please give full details.

The remaining questions are equally simple. The next form is an acknowledgement of non-liability for treatment. Then there is an agreement concerning the doctor's clinical notes. The next form is " Repatriation Survey of ex-Prisoners of War (J)- Personal Statement". That, too, is a simple form with only seven questions on it. Then there is a form which applies to men who served in a theatre of war with Japan. Its purpose is to save applicants a second visit. There are certainly not twenty pages of forms, and, as I have said, they can be filled in quite simply. The honorable member for Parramatta, when referring no Mr. Davis in his question, said -

He has told me that he telephoned the doctor at the hospital and was told to attend at 2 p.m. He did so and between that time and 4.35 p.m. he and the doctor were engaged in filling in fifteen or twenty pages of forms.

The information contained in the few forms completed by Mr. Davis provides a basis for the essential medical files of the department. None of the information asked for is superfluous. The files are essential in the consideration of claims for medical, hospital and pension benefits. With regard to the allegation that between 2 p.m. and 4.35 p.m. Mr. Davis and the doctor were engaged in filling in forms, [ find that it was not until 2.50 p.m. that the medical officer attended to the patient. Mr. Davis was advised by a private practitioner to approach the Repatriation Department. He was given a letter introducing him to Dr. Dean of the New South Wales branch. On the 8th March, he contacted Dr. Dean by telephone and it was arranged that he should call on the doctor at 2 p.m. Upon arrival at the repatriation office, he was asked to report at the medical counter, which is the customary procedure, and to apply for acceptance of his condition. It was necessary for him to complete the necessary papers and this took him approximately half an hour. He was then asked to wait in the medical waiting room, and as soon as the clerk was free to attend to him he was told that Dr. Dean had made arrangements for him to see Dr. Mack. Dr. Mack attended to him as soon as he was free of another case, and Mr. Davis subsequently left the building a little after 4.30 p.m. In a conversation later with a responsible officer of the Repatriation Department, Mr. Davis said that had he realized that he should have gone to the medical counter in the first instance instead of arranging an appointment with Dr. Dean, much of the waiting time would have been avoided. As I have already stated, the time occupied in completing and signing the forms regarded as essential for the proper handling of repatriation medical cases was not unreasonable. It may be, however, that the honorable member was told that Mr. Davis spent some time with the repatriation medical officer on the day in question completing some personal statements for an appendix relating to a survey of prisoners of war which the Repatriation Commission is having compiled. That, of course, had nothing to do with the normal routine practice with applications for medical treatment and benefits. It is pointed out, however, that ex-prisoners of war realize that the help that they can give to the medical officers in this connexion is for the benefit of this section of ex-servicemen as a whole. While Mr. Davis was at the department on the 8th March, the opportunity was taken by the medical officer to obtain the assistance of Mr. Davis in this way, thus obviating the necessity to invite him to the office for that special purpose. In the course of a discussion with a responsible officer of the department, of Mr. Davis's experiences at the New South Wales branch on the 8th March, it was pointed out that Mr. Davis had stressed the fact that he, at the time of his conversation with the honorable member for Parramatta, had been, to use his own words, " a bit hot under the collar ". Mr. Davis added, when speaking to the official of the department, that he had nothing but praise for the attention given to him by the officials of the department. I have no doubt that some complaints about repatriation matters are well founded, because the department does not claim to be, nor do I claim it to be, a perfect instrumentality. However, I suggest that if honorable members would bring their complaints to my notice personally or in a letter, it would save ventilating in this chamber matters that could be dealt with effectively otherwise.

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