Raigmore Hospital, Inverness: From EMS to NHS

by Marion Ruscoe

Raigmore Hospital, 1948 © HES (Aerofilms Collection)

Raigmore Hospital was erected as part of the Emergency Medical Scheme (EMS) on part of  the Raigmore estate and opened in 1941.  The Emergency Medical Scheme was established to provide adequate medical facilities for expected wartime casualties and Raigmore was one of seven new hospitals built during the war.  They were all built to a standard design, but because of restrictions in the use of timber and steel, the buildings at Raigmore were brick, single storey and flat roofed.  An aerial photograph, taken in 1948, of the new hospital shows the layout to the south of Raigmore House on the east side of Inverness.   There were 16 individual wards and an isolation unit providing about 670 beds.  Staff accommodation was provided at the north-west corner of the site and a further collection of individual blocks between the staff accommodation and the wards housed administration, kitchens, dining rooms, laboratories and other services.

After the war, Raigmore continued to provide hospital services to Inverness and the surrounding area along with, principally, the R.N.I., Culduthel Hospital and Hilton Hospital but by the 1960s the facilities in Inverness were not meeting modern needs and in 1962 plans for a new general hospital to serve Inverness were put in place.   As an EMS hospital Raigmore was never designed to last for ever.  By 1966 work had begun on the new hospital for the Highlands and it was decided that it had to be at Raigmore, because that was where there was enough space to develop the facilities.  Phase 1 of the development was opened in 1970.  It incorporated the Outpatients Department, laboratories, pharmacy, physiotherapy and records.  Dr. James Bruce, who in 1947 was appointed consultant biochemist, finally got the new laboratory that he was promised at interview.

An aerial view of the hospital in 1972 shows Phase 1 at the bottom of the photo, but the original hospital buildings are still there and in use.  When comparing this view with the earlier view taken in 1948 the only other differences are that the walled garden has become part of the hospital car park, and the College of Nursing has been built to the right of the wards.

Raigmore had become a training school for nurses in 1946 and the College of Nursing was opened in 1970.  It included a library, which in 1971 merged with the library at the R.N.I. to create a combined medical/nursing library.  Raigmore was one of the first hospitals in Scotland to have a combined medical/nursing library and to appoint a professional librarian.  Library services were also provided for the laboratory staff working in Phase 1, and following the reorganisation of the Health Service in 1973, it was decided to rename the library the Highland Health Sciences Library. 

Raigmore was not a teaching hospital, but from 1968 training placements for medical students from Aberdeen University were available and the Postgraduate Medical Centre was added to the College of Nursing in 1973.  The first director was Dr. Ieuan Davies who enthusiastically embraced his role and developed postgraduate medical education within the Highlands.  Meantime the development of graduate nursing qualifications led to co-operation between the College of Nursing and Stirling University.   The College of Nursing and Postgraduate Medical Centre has become the Centre for Health Science, which opened in 2009 in a new building and is now attached to UHI.

In the 1970s the need to replace the old wards was becoming urgent and in 1978 the building of phase 2 of the hospital started.  It was to be a tower block with eight floors and built alongside Phase 1.   It opened in 1985.  

The remaining original buildings of the Raigmore Estate – a gardener’s cottage and a coach house at Easter Drakies – were demolished in 1983, leaving only part of the garden wall at the car park as a reminder of what had been on the site before the war.

The tower block is very prominent and can be seen clearly when approaching Inverness from any direction.  But from 1985 onwards Raigmore seems to have been a constant building site, with new units being added on a regular basis.  The old wards were demolished after moving patients into the new facilities and a maternity unit was built on part of the site and opened in 1988.    The Accident and Emergency Department was initially situated on the ground floor of Phase 2, but in 2004 a new unit was opened between Phase 1 and the car park.  Maggie’s Centre opened in 2005 on a patch of ground between Phase 1 and the road.  In 2007 the Wyvis Suite was opened for Pre-Op Assessment and Cardiac Ultrasound. The ambulance station was upgraded in 2010.  A new Children’s Ward opened in 2016 following a successful appeal for funds launched in 2011.  The helipad was upgraded in 2019.   The car park is notoriously overcrowded, despite having grown over the last 50 years, and there are plans to provide 200 extra parking places.  Other units that have been added since the 1980s include the Birnie Centre for Child Development and the Breast Screening Centre.

Other hospitals in Inverness were closed as services were concentrated at Raigmore.  Hilton Hospital closed in 1987 and Culduthel Hospital closed in 1989.  Both have been redeveloped as residential properties.  The RNI, which had been built by public subscription and opened in 1804, enjoyed a very special role in the history of Inverness and though acute services were transferred to Raigmore, a community hospital was built in the grounds.  The original building became the headquarters of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Jim Bone’s aerial photographs can help in tracking the growth of a modern facility at Raigmore.

Raigmore Hospital in 1989,  The site is comparatively clear and new staff residences can be seen on the far side of the site.

This photograph, taken in the early 1990s shows Raigmore as still quite a spacious site, though more buildings are appearing behind Phase 2.  Note the Helipad, and the comparatively empty car park!

Raigmore in the late 1990s.  Some of the green spaces are being dug up for further development

Raigmore Hospital, 2013, showing the maternity unit, the ward block, Phase 1, A&E and the Maggie Centre.  The ambulance station and Osprey House (Drug and Alcohol Recovery Centre) are at the bottom right corner on the site of Easter Drakies farm.

Raigmore Hospital, 2017.  This view includes (from centre left to bottom right) the laundry and Centre for Health Science, Sterile Services Unit and Breast Screening Unit, the Birnie Centre for Child Development, the NHS Recreation Hall and staff accommodation.   The area in front of the Maternity Unit is now being developed for further units and a Dermatology Unit, Sexual Health Unit and Teen Unit are already in place.  The car park on the right has now been extended into the green area beside it

For a fuller account of the history of Raigmore Hospital up to 2000 see Leslie, JC & Leslie SJ: The Hospitals of Inverness.

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