The NHS Highland Archive, housed in the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness, is one of the biggest collections of its kind in the country and is made up of records from hospitals, public health administrations, NHS boards, management committees, executive councils and county insurance committees.
And in what amounts to some 150 linear metres of shelving, the archives contains some true gems, including the Royal Northern Infirmary records, which documents its history from 1799 through to its demise with the expansion of Raigmore Hospital in the 1980s.
But perhaps the most moving part of the archives is the ‘Register of Lunatics’ and doctors’ case notes from Craig Dunain Psychiatric Hospital, which opened as the Northern Counties Lunatic Asylum in May 1864.
The case notes reveal heart-wrenching tales of patients whose supposed cause of insanity ranged from greed and fright to “disappointment in marriage” and “religious excitement”.
The NHS Highland Archive – effectively three furniture lorry loads of records – has been housed at the Highland Archive Centre for the past 18 months.
During that time, the archive has been systematically catalogued, making them more accessible than ever to interested members of the public, academics and social, local and family historians.
Colin Waller, an archivist at the centre, explained: “These records were previously administered from Aberdeen as part of the Northern Health Services Archives and stored in a commercial unit in Inverness, with access being arranged through the Highland Health Services Library at the Centre for Health Sciences, Raigmore.
“However, NHS Highland decided to relocate them to the Highland Archive Centre, enabling them to be preserved in the most suitable conditions (they are kept at around 17 degrees Centigrade and 45% humidity) and to be more easily accessed.
“Prior to them coming to the centre in 2011, around 60% of the material had been catalogued. The remaining 40% – records previously unused by anyone – has now been catalogued. The result is that we now have an archive which is on a par with health board archives in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but to my mind more interesting. Those archives relate to urban areas, while the NHS Highland archives relate to a huge catchment area that is predominantly rural.
“Not only that, many records relate to patients who spoke only Gaelic but who received treatment in an English-speaking environment.”
D Ken Proctor, NHS Highland Associate Medical Director (Primary Care), added: “It is great that these wonderful archives are now stored in a wonderful modern facility and are now more accessible than ever. The archive has become a tremendous asset for anyone interested in social, local and family history and I would urge them to use it. The archive is both priceless and fascinating.”
Since moving to the centre the NHS Highland archive has grown steadily larger, among the latest acquisitions being case books from the Royal Northern Infirmary dating from 1914 and from the 1940s. They, like all archives under 100 years old, are subject to the Data Protection Act, which imposes limitations on their use.
It is now planned to make the archive catalogue available online.
“Our goal is to make the NHS Highland Archive as comprehensive and well known as its counterparts in Edinburgh and Glasgow,” said Mr Waller.