The Department carries out its function of research and investigation through its two laboratories at the National Health Institute, and the Dominion X-ray and Radium Laboratory.
The National Health Institute
The National Health Institute was opened in 1954. It carries out research and teaching, and provides specialised laboratory and epidemiological services. An Occupational Health Unit, also, is now being developed.
Laboratory: The Institute has a number of laboratories whose work includes research, and the provision of services in general bacteriology, virology, bacteriophage typing, and chemistry. Though the work of the laboratories is primarily directed to public health ends, the services are available to and much used by hospitals and medical practitioners generally. Particular use is made of bacteriophage typing, the leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis diagnostic facilities, and of the salmonella and shigella reference services, for which latter the Institute is the national centre. The virus laboratories provide a general diagnostic service for virus diseases, and as national influenza centre serve as one of the world-wide chain of influenza laboratories organised by WHO.
Teaching: Teaching is an important function of the Institute. In association with the Wellington Technical College, it conducts a full-time training course for health inspectors, attended by departmental, local body, and Colombo Plan students. Refresher courses for more senior health inspectors are organised, and special short courses for hospital bacteriologists. Lectures also are given to post-graduate nurses, midwife trainess, and hospital staffs.
Epidemiology and Research: The work undertaken is directed to solving immediate practical problems, and recently great attention has been paid to those involved in cross infection within hospitals. This work has covered a very wide field ranging from architectural design, and ventilation, to small details of cleaning, laundering, and housekeeping, including the use and effectiveness of various disinfectants.
Smallpox Vaccine: All the smallpox vaccine used in New Zealand is prepared at the Institute.
Occupational Health Unit: The Occupational Health Unit, which is envisaged, will be concerned with the whole range of problems that arise in this important branch of public health.
The Director of the Institute is Dr J. D. Manning who succeeded the late Dr J. H. Blakelock.
Dominion X-ray and Radium Laboratory
This National Radiation Laboratory was established by the Department in 1950 to administer the Radioactive Substances Act 1949, and regulations enacted thereunder. The Act is designed to protect the people of New Zealand from unnecessary exposure to harmful radiation, and this purpose is achieved by:
Restricting the use of ionising sources to those qualified and competent persons who hold a current licence issued by the Laboratory.
Providing for the notification of all sales of irradiating apparatus, and establishing the Laboratory as the sole importing authority for radioactive substances.
Regulating against the gross misuse of radioactive substances and irradiating apparatus.
Providing, through the Laboratory, a radiation measuring and advisory service.
An essential feature of the working of the Laboratory is the provision of a field service. Trained physicists, equipped with a wide range of instruments, make periodic visits to all places where radiation sources are used. X-ray therapy units and hospital dosemeters are calibrated bi-annually. These field measurements are augmented by reports detailing physical data and giving guidance for protective measures. Monitoring of radiation workers is provided by the postal film service. The effectiveness of New Zealand radiological protection can be judged from the results which show clearly how the present very low doses have been progressively approached since national coverage was achieved in 1952.
The Laboratory supplies radon seeds and needles from its radon extraction plant, and also makes available Strontium-90 superficial applicators used principally for ophthalmic treatments.
An unusual feature of the organisation of radiation protection in New Zealand is that the services provided are available free to the licensees.
The Laboratory services are backed by development and research projects. In recent years the Laboratory has been actively engaged in investigating the degree of radioactive contamination from fall-out, and assessing what damage, if any, to the general public has arisen.