Note: This project currently is fully staffed with volunteers and we are not looking to take on any more volunteers at present



From the mid-19th century there was increased concern over the health care provision available to people living in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Enquiries and reports on the difficulties faced by these communities eventually led to the establishment of the state funded Highlands and Islands Medical Service in 1913, a forerunner of the National Health Service. One of the earliest enquiries to illustrate the inadequacy of the medical provision available in the Highlands and Islands was carried out by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

From 1850 to 1852 the College sent surveys to church ministers and doctors across the Highlands and Islands. The surveys gathered information on the number of medical practitioners in the parishes and the conditions faced by those accessing and providing medical care.  The surveys provide a stark account of what it was like to need medical attention in remote and rural Scotland. Faced with an unforgiving landscape, a dispersed population and economic difficulties, communities found themselves in desperate situations. A church minister from the island of Mull reported the distressing case of a man who, after having his leg crushed, had to travel 36 hours to access a doctor to have it amputated. Included are reports from doctors detailing how they had to undertake long and dangerous journeys, some across sea in leaky boats, to reach those in need.

Medical provision has drastically improved since the mid-19th century when the enquiry was carried out. However, the remote landscape of the Highland and Islands still presents challenges to healthcare providers and their patients today. These surveys provide us with a historical insight into the ongoing difficulties of providing and accessing care in remote and rural Scotland.

The Project

The College has digitised these surveys and, as the first phase of the project, we aim to transcribe them and make them available online.

To do this we have recruited a group of distance volunteers who can assist us in transcribing these surveys.


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Blackden, Stephanie. 1998. "From physicians' enquiry to Dewar report: a survey of medical services in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland, 1852-1912: Part I." Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 28.1 (1998): 51-66. [Accessed 02/02/2020]

Whatley, Patricia E. 2013. “The Development of Medical Services in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, 1843-1936.” PhD Thesis, University of Dundee, Dundee. (link is external) [Accessed 02/02/2020]

The Highlands and Islands Transcription Project has been developed by Jennifer Wolmarans, a student on the MSc Information Management and Preservation course at the University of Glasgow.