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4 January 2023

NHS Lothian publishes research findings about the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s historical ties to Atlantic slavery

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NHS Lothian has published the findings of a research project, funded by NHS Lothian Charity, to learn about the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s historical ties with the enslavement of African people and people of African descent.

The main findings include:

From 1729 to 1850, the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) received at least £28,080 from 43 individuals with ties to Atlantic slavery. These donors included physicians, surgeons, politicians, colonial officials, bankers, and a range of merchants, both in Britain and its colonies, who were connected to the enslavement of African people in the British West Indies and America.

From 1749 to 1892, the RIE owned and leased an estate in Jamaica called Red Hill pen, bequeathed in the will of the Scottish surgeon and enslaver Dr Archibald Kerr. Until the abolition of slavery in Britain’s colonies in 1834, the RIE owned and leased the enslaved people, drawing substantial rents from the property. After Abolition, the estate employed ‘apprentice’ Black labourers.

Between 1773 and 1801, the RIE was involved in requests for the manumission (the granting of freedom) of an enslaved Black woman (Juliet) and later her two enslaved children (John and William Moodie) on Red Hill at the request of their father, Dr John Moodie, a White man.

Through a complex series of events, the RIE eventually received approximately £832 from the British Government after the abolition of slavery (1834) as ‘compensation’ for the loss of the labour of the enslaved people at Red Hill.

NHS Lothian is committed to eliminating unlawful discrimination and harassment, advancing equality of opportunity, and fostering good relations between the different groups of people working for the organisation and using its services.

Throughout January, a series of public engagement events, led in partnership between the project’s independent Advisory Group and researcher, will be held in Edinburgh and online. The purpose of these events is to start a conversation about what we have learned, the lasting impact, and the changes NHS Lothian can make today.

We are particularly interested in hearing from those groups who are most adversely affected by this history of slavery, including NHS Lothian BME staff and the wider ethnically diverse communities across Lothian. The Advisory Group will then make recommendations to the NHS Lothian Board to suggest how the organisation might correctly and appropriately learn from its past and act to tackle the modern-day racism and racial inequalities experienced by the people who work for NHS Lothian and use our services.

The full historical report and further details on the project itself can be found on NHS Lothian’s website, including how to take part in these important conversations – https://org.nhslothian.scot/aboutus/atlantic-slavery-and-the-royal-infirmary-of-edinburgh/

Two open sessions will also take place at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh. During these sessions, relevant eighteenth and nineteenth century records used in the historical report will be available for people to view with the guidance of staff at Lothian Health Services Archive.

Talking about the importance of this charity-funded project, NHS Lothian Chief Executive, Calum Campbell said:

It is essential that our health and care system is truly inclusive so that everyone in Lothian lives longer, healthier lives, with better outcomes from the care and treatment we provide. We also strive to be an inclusive employer where everyone who works with and for us has better experiences. This work to acknowledge and tackle racism and racial inequality is vital to delivering this ambition.

“This project was fully funded by NHS Lothian’s official charity, NHS Lothian Charity. An independent researcher was contracted by NHS Lothian Charity to undertake the research and will lead the subsequent public engagement work.

“We hope that the public will get involved in conversations about this important work, helping us to understand and consider different reflections and viewpoints that will inform the independent Advisory Group’s final recommendations.”

Director of NHS Lothian Charity, Jane Ferguson said:

This is an important piece of work that we are serious about working in partnership on with NHS Lothian and we are providing charitable funding to take it forward. Reducing health inequality is one of the Charity’s priority objectives and this research helps both us and NHS Lothian understand what more we can do to help improve the health outcomes of our ethnically diverse communities.”

A list of FAQs has been provided to help with any questions that you might have about this project. For more information visit: https://org.nhslothian.scot/AboutUs/OurHistory/Slavery/Pages/default.aspx