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Medicine and the War

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What impact did war have on medical treatment and surgery 1900 - 1945? Oliver Latham Within the World War context, medical practitioners were obliged to search for new way of treating patients, in order to combat the growing amount of wounded soldiers and ensure soldiers were in the greatest health they could possible be in order to fight. It is not surprising therefore that war brought great change to the way doctors and surgeons approached medical problems and the techniques they used in order to deal with them. It is hard to deny that war had a positive impact on the nature of surgery in Britain. It helped surgeons to develop new ways of fighting infection. Bullet wounds which frequented soldiers in the First and Second World Wars, carried infection deep into the body and meant surgeons had to search for better ways to prevent infections. In First World War Britain aseptic surgery was practised in all hospitals and success rates in operation were much higher than they had been 30 years earlier. However, on the battlefield and under the pressure of enormous numbers of operations it was often difficult to prevent the infection of wounds. ...read more.


War also brought improvement to certain branches of medical technology such as the X - Ray. These had been discovered twenty years before the start of the First World War and were used by war surgeons to locate bullets and shrapnel. The war years highlighted the importance of such developments and machines were quickly manufactured to meet the new demands and were soon installed in major hospitals along the Western Front. In the First World mobile X - Ray units were used in order to quickly scan soldiers and so improve the success rate of surgeons. It also underlined the importance of innovative transport in quickly and efficiently treating patients. Delays in treatment could mean the difference between life and death when the wounded were vulnerable to further danger on the battlefield. The First World War saw the beginning of motorised ambulances and trains and the Second World War; roaming surgical units which meant that over three fifths of the severely wounded could be operated on within 12 hours. Blood transfusion was another area which had been regularly tried before the 20th Century but underwent great change during the early 1900's because of the conditions of war. ...read more.


It gave everyone much better access to health care. In 1940 a campaign was launched to get all children immunised against diphtheria. Food rationing was introduced together with a healthier eating campaign. The diet of some poorer people improved during the war because the Ministry of Food tried to ensure that rations included the vitamins and calories which many people would not otherwise have had in their diet. It was known that the absence of vitamins in the diet could cause disease such as rickets (1921) and in the war - time context these issues were brought to the forefront. Perhaps the greatest development was the setting up of the National Health Service in 1948 which was the direct result of the Second World War conflict. In conclusion war greatly changed the nature of surgery and medicine in the 1900's, advancing a range of different branches of patient care. Surgeon's techniques, for example, which were effective during the war years, were transferred to civilian hospitals after the war and brought great change. In some ways war in Britain hindered the development of surgical techniques and new medicines by halting a great deal of medical research. In First World war Britain 14,000 doctors were taken away from their normal work to cope with the large amount of war casualties. However, the war largely helped more than it hindered. ...read more.

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