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					The Fifties saw the emergence of trends in public health that continue today. Doctors,
bureaucrats and the public became more interested in preventative strategies. With
communicable diseases being brought under control, attention shifted to chronic illnesses.
The Minister for Health, Dr Earle Page, announced a plan in May 1950 which responded
to these new trends. The Page Plan proposed:
• improving nutrition through a school milk scheme, funded by the Commonwealth but
  administered by the States;
• preventing disease through health education and an improved pharmaceutical benefits
  scheme that would provide free life-saving and disease-preventing drugs; and
• subsidising patients and hospitals through a government-supported voluntary insurance
  scheme.
The 1953 National Health Act incorporated various parts of the Page Plan. The new
insurance scheme did not interfere with existing doctor-patient relationships. There was,
however, a definite move away from reliance on philanthropy to state care for the poor.
In 1951 the Minister introduced a Pensioner Medical Service to cater to the aged, invalids
and widows for whom the burden of high medical costs was greatest. The service was the
responsibility of the Department of Health, working in cooperation with the Department of
Social Services and Repatriation.
The post-war period saw a scarcity in housing. In 1952 a deputation of old age
pensioners told Prime Minister Menzies that access to suitable accommodation was more
important than any increase in pension rates. This led, in 1954, to the Government
agreeing to meet the capital costs incurred by religious and other charitable organisations
for building and equipping homes for the elderly. To save on hospital beds, the 1957
Aged Person’s Homes Act introduced a subsidy for home nursing organisations.
The health campaigns of the fifties reflected the nation’s greater prosperity and the growing
emphasis on prevention. For example, much more attention was paid to dental care. In
1953 fluoridated water was first introduced in a pilot program at Beaconsfield in northern
Tasmania.
Car accidents were becoming a major killer of Australian youth. The Department responded
by funding road safety education. But the most prominent campaigns were aimed at
tuberculosis (TB) and polio...




          2001 – 80 Years of a Commonwealth Department of Health
                           and 100 Years of Federation
The head of the TB Division in the Department, Dr H.W. Wunderly, was knighted in 1954
for his work in setting up an Australia-wide scheme to control tuberculosis. The scheme
reduced the rate of TB deaths from 25 per 100,000 in 1949 to 11 per 100,000 in
1953. An essential part of that campaign was the use of x-rays which could detect the
disease in its early stages. At the end of the decade concerns were first raised about the
harmful side effects of x-rays.
The peak of the polio epidemic came in 1951 when more than 4,700 cases were
notified. With the introduction of mass vaccination campaigns once the Salk vaccine
became available in 1956, the incidence fell rapidly (the Sabin oral vaccine became
available from 1966).
The Department of Health’s responsibility extended to the control of diseases which could
harm Australia’s agricultural sector. For example, when there was a serious outbreak of foot
and mouth disease in Europe in the early fifties, the Quarantine Service took extra
precautions to decontaminate the belongings of European rural migrants. All their clothes
and luggage were put through steam and formalin disinfectors before they disembarked at
Australian ports.
In the fifties the Commonwealth became the largest purchaser of drugs in Australia.
Naturally, it was concerned to maintain their quality. Initially drugs testing was carried out
by the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne. It was not until 1957 that the Therapeutic
Substances Act was passed and 1959 that the National Biological Standards Laboratory
was set up at the Australian National University. Part of the Laboratory’s job was to
cooperate with the States in securing uniformity throughout Australia in biological standards
and labelling.
The work of the Northern Territory medical services was carried out in cooperation with
church missionaries, Native Affairs Officers and cattle station managers. The Department
offered these people courses in practical hygiene and aspects of tropical medicine at its
School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. However, the health of Aboriginal peoples
living in rural and urban areas showed little improvement to those from the last century.
Australia became actively involved in the World Health Organisation. It also sought to
foster closer relations within the Asian region through the establishment of the Colombo Plan
which sponsored students, including in the health professions, to study at Australian tertiary
institutions.

History Montage Services                         1 – Department of Health Letterhead
Poster 5: 1950 – 1959 : Campaigning for Health   2 – Photograph – boy at desk doing school work through
                                                      correspondence, milk at forefront
              1                                  3 – Departmental letter to parents re Mantoux skin tests for TB
                                        3        4 – Handwritten letter, part of Norfolk Island survey re TB - Wunderly
                                                 5 – Photograph - Hon. Sir Earle Page, Minister for Health in Menzies
                                                      Coalition Portrait
                                                 6 – Commonwealth of Australia Crest
                                                 7 – Photograph – Red Cross blood bank worker
                  2                              8 – Photograph – Mt Henry Nursing Home for the Aged, WA
                                    4        7   9 – Photograph – Mr Mint ex ‘Fairsea’ at Bonegilla Migrant Centre
                                                      having a chest X-ray
                                                 10 – Photograph – Zuiderkruis arriving in Melbourne, 1954
                                                 11 – Photograph –Practising boarding a tram at the Maryport
                      6                 8             Rehabilitation Centre. Roger Wellman, Senior Physiotherapist.
              5                                  12 – Extract from ‘Health 1951-2 Vols 1-2, title ‘Care of the Aged’
                                                 13 – Photograph – Dentist treating small boy with family looking on,
                          9                           nurse setting out equipment, 1953
                                        10


                              12

                                                 To view the series of montage posters representing
         11                                      the history of the Commonwealth Department of
                                   13            Health on the Internet, go to
                                                 www.health.gov.au/history.htm

				
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