Fascinating Historical Surveys of Medical Practice in Highlands & Islands Go Online

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has a new website, Remote & Rural Remedies which  features a digitised and transcribed collection of surveys conducted by the College in the mid-19th century to investigate medical practice in the Scottish Highlands & Islands. 

RCPE have also created accompanying school activities, blog posts, videos and online exhibitions to provide context and support different avenues of engagement.

Clicking on the map will give you easy access to information such as Dr Duguid of Kirkwall who in 1851, commented on the ‘bad’ state of the roads and his means of getting to his patients by ‘horse and boat’.

Robert Watson, a Minister on Hoy, records in his survey of 1850, that there were no medical practitioners in the island. There was one woman who acted as a midwife but the Minister is doubtful of her skills. He suggests that a woman should be sent south to learn midwifery but with ‘as little expense as possible’.

The resource is an excellent reminder of what it was like for those who could not afford to pay for medical treatment in the days before our NHS was founded.

Also included are  interviews with doctors and nurses currently practicing in the Highlands & Islands – uncovering stories of the challenges of dealing with medical emergencies, COVID-19 and the medical conditions faced by those living in the Highlands & Islands.

Daisy Cunynghame, Head of Heritage, explained:

“These records demonstrate the College’s long history of conducting research into healthcare provision and medical practice with the aim of regulating the profession to protect the public. We are excited to bring this collection to the public eye and very proud of the efforts of colleagues and volunteers that were involved in creating this web resource.

“Researchers now have access to digitised records which highlight the challenges of medical aid and healthcare in the Highlands and Islands at a time of increasing social, industrial and economic upheaval. “

The hope is that the website will become a hub for providing medical care in the Highlands and Islands both for historical records and for today.

The website will enable current medical practitioners and allied health professionals to contribute to the discussion by submitting their own survey. In these surveys, the College invites practitioners to share their experiences and perspective on remote and rural medicine today as well as and how much and what which aspects have changed over time.

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