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Hospitals of Badenoch and Strathspey

Badenoch and Strathspey lies along the mid-section of the broad valley, or strath, of the River Spey which is flanked by fairly rugged mountainous terrain in places and which has been long famed for its scenic attraction and outdoor recreation.  It is a largely rural area and the two main hospitals lie within two of the main settlements.  Badenoch has a long heritage as a distinct part of the Highlands and the area around and including Grantown on Spey has long been part of Moray and indeed the Ian Charles Hospital was part of the Moray Health Board until 1974.  Therefore, to understand the history of medical care and hospitals in this area we have to look both to Inverness and to Elgin for how central services were provided.


As noted earlier, the Northern Infirmary, Inverness opened in 1804 and Dr Gray’s Hospital Elgin in 1819.  However, the earliest reference to any form of local medical institution seems to be in 1836 when the Duke of Bedford formed a fund to establish a dispensary in the area.  It was reported in the press that Dr Cumming, sole medical practitioner, was spending much of his own income in providing medicines gratis for the poor of Badenoch and Rothiemurchas of which there were many.  The Duke had committed £20 to the fund and further subscribers had committed almost £45 more.  The single press report did not, however, specify any collection point for public subscription or give any plans for its administration except that applicants for relief would need to be vetted by the kirk session.  The assumption is that it came to nothing as did many other such proposals at a time when we had recently experienced a national cholera epidemic in 1832 and when the Inverness (Forbes) Dispensary had been successfully established in 1834.

Until the 19th century, very few people went to hospital but those who did had to go to the cities and there is some evidence that the area looked towards Edinburgh.  In 1912, surgical cases from the Kingussie area were generally sent to Edinburgh.  However, the area was more fortunate than many rural areas in that, from 1804, as part of Inverness-shire, Badenoch people had access to the Northern Infirmary, Inverness and as part of Moray, the Grantown area would have access to Dr Gray’s, Elgin.  However, as noted elsewhere, access to hospital was not the personal right which we now come to expect under the NHS.  Both hospitals were independently run and admission to them (except in emergency) had to be approved by a trustee or by a church minister.  When the Ian Charles opened in 1885, the local parishes made up its preferred catchment area.  Admissions were subject to approval by local doctors and all were closely supervised by the Countess of Seafield.  In all cases, active membership of the Church of Scotland helped greatly in securing admission but those with a long term or psychiatric ailment were specifically excluded as were paupers.   However, residents in the Grantown area, as part of Moray had access to their own local pauper asylum from 1835 which was 30 years ahead of most parts of Scotland.  Unique in Northern mainland Scotland was the preference given by the Grampian Sanatorium to Roman Catholic patients from the 1930s on.

In 1897, the Kingussie, Alvie and Insh Provident Nursing Association proposed raising funds for a cottage hospital to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.  However, like many such enthusiastic plans across the country it did not progress.

There was no large poorhouse developed to contribute to heath care locally and the few parishes which combined with others to use the poorhouse at Balblair, Nairn seem to have gained little from it.  Infectious diseases were treated at the Badenoch Hospital, Meadowside, near Kincraig and Moray’s Spynie Hospital in Elgin but the most acclaimed establishment was the privately owned Grampian Sanatorium in Kingussie which treated pulmonary tuberculosis.  At its founding in 1901, it was hailed as the first of its kind in Scotland and its interesting history saw it taken over by the Sisters of the Order of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.  This is, apparently, mainland Highland’s only example of a hospital run by a religious order.  The hospital was taken over by the Highland Health Board in 1986, again a unique event, being the only hospital in the Highlands taken over by the NHS after 1948.


Unusually for North East Scotland where many towns had a wartime hospital there were few military hospitals in the area, the only one being at Nethybridge where, during the Second World War, Aultmore House was used as a convalescent hospital. Unfortunately, there seem to be no records available of its time as a hospital.


In 1948, the Ian Charles Hospital was placed within the North East Health Board but reorganisation in 1974 brought it within the Highland Health Board area.  It is an excellent example of a fully endowed hospital.  Administered and financed directly by Seafield Estates until 1912, it then received a large endowment from the bequest of the Countess of Seafield which secured much of its future finances until 1948.



The first ambulances were pulled by horses but, after the First World War, motor ambulances became more available and gradually improved in design.  In 1919, Grantown received a horse drawn ambulance from Elgin when it was replaced there by a motor ambulance.  Most important was the condition of the roads.  An uncomfortable journey to hospital caused by poorly sprung vehicles on uneven roads was so risky to a patient that a doctor’s advice was often to keep them at home.  Ambulances, including motor ones, were also slow and it was sometimes less risky to the patient for the doctor to conduct, for example, an appendectomy on the kitchen table by candle-light than risk the delay in getting to the safer hospital operating theatre.


After 1889, local authorities had to supply ambulances to take fever cases to their hospitals.  In 1907, Badenoch supplied an ambulance to be used for Meadowside cases from Badenoch and Elgin was the base for Moray fever ambulances for cases from the Grantown area.  By 1946, there were two based at Spynie Hospital.


The supply of ambulances for non-fever cases was piecemeal mainly because it relied on charitable funding and local initiative.  Local ambulance associations raised money to fund an ambulance run by the Red Cross or by the St Andrews Association.  In 1928, Laggan Red Cross branch donated 10 guineas towards the upkeep of the ambulance at the Northern Infirmary, Inverness.  Laggan Parish Council also agreed to donate £10 p.a. to ensure free use of it to take Laggan cases to the Infirmary should the need arise.


By 1946, an ambulance was based at Grantown on Spey and used by the Town Council.  There was also one provided by the Strathspey Garage. After 1948, ambulances were provided jointly by the St Andrew’s Association and the Red Cross until 1967 when the Red Cross stopped.  After 1974, the NHS took over ambulance provision.

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