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Delivering Health Services in the Highlands and Islands

The dispersed population and unique geography of the Highlands and Islands have long presented challenges in terms of delivering local services such as healthcare to isolated communities.

Today, the same challenges are being addressed using innovative digital technologies which can remove the need for patients to travel to hospital and allow doctors to consult from afar. However, this is not the first time the region has witnessed such forward-thinking innovation in the provision of healthcare.

Set up in 1913, 35 years before the launch of the NHS in the UK, the Highlands and Islands Medical Service (HIMS) was a unique social experiment that provided state-funded healthcare to people in the crofting counties, where services had been either poor or non-existent. The HIMS ensured doctors had a basic income, a house, telephone, and car or boat to get around. Working in the most remote communities became an attractive career option for nurses and doctors, and by 1929 there were 175 nurses and 160 doctors working in 150 practices across the Highlands and Islands for the first time.

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