A crisis-hit health board has announced a reparations scheme to atone for its historical links to the slave trade.
NHS Lothian’s Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (RIE) benefited from the modern equivalent of almost £40million from slavery through ownership of a Caribbean plantation in the 18th century.
Now health chiefs will embark on measures including a public apology, commissioning artworks and educating staff on the links.
The work is being led and funded by the NHS Lothian Charity and will not involve direct financial donations being made as part of the reparations.
But there are budget concerns as the NHS faces winter already stretched beyond capacity.
It comes just months after inspectors said they had ‘serious concerns’ about patient safety at the RIE.
The hospital was running at more than capacity and on occasions the accident and emergency unit had three times as many patients as it was designed to handle, according to Health Improvement Scotland.
Research backed by the health board found that the RIE had been left the Red Hill Penn estate in Jamaica in 1750 in the will of a surgeon, Archibald Kerr.
The bequest included 39 slaves and the report said that over the next 143 years generations of enslaved people would have provided ‘a considerable amount of wealth for the infirmary’ in rental income.
Research has also identified donations that the hospital received from individuals who profited from slavery. The hospital used the money to buy medicines, construct a building, employ staff and heal Edinburgh’s ‘sick poor’.
The reparations will include making a formal apology to people of African descent, commissioning artwork dedicated to victims of slavery and signing an agreement aimed at improving health in modern-day Jamaica.
An advisory group set up by NHS Lothian said the measures would ‘help to eliminate systemic discrimination and racism in Scotland’ and ‘make amends for past wrongs’. The initial work will be funded through ‘existing departmental budgets and staffing’ but long-term costs are ‘unknown’.
Last winter, NHS Lothian was one of many health boards hit by the winter crisis. It asked families to provide care to relatives as an interim measure to relieve bed blocking.
Conservative MSP Sue Webber said: ‘Eyebrows are bound to be raised by this recommendation. With Scotland’s NHS stretched beyond breaking point under the SNP, the public will rightly question why NHS Lothian are expending scarce resources on this.’
The project comes as Scotland faces record waiting times, with more than a quarter of cancer patients waiting for longer than the two-month target to begin treatment.