National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

National Health Service Central Register (NHSCR)

National Health Service Central Register (NHSCR)

The History of the Register

On 29 September 1939, the Government carried out an enumeration of the population. The Second World War had started three and a half weeks earlier and the enumeration was a vital early step towards putting the nation on a war footing, providing the necessary information for:

  • issuing national identity cards,

  • issuing food and clothing ration books,

  • identifying children eligible for evacuation from areas vulnerable to bombing

  • identifying adults eligible for call up into the Armed Forces.

In Scotland, the enumeration was carried out by the National Records of Scotland (NRS), because of its responsibility for the Census. Every person was given their own unique civil registration number, based on where they were living on enumeration night. For people born after 29 September 1939, the number allocated when their birth was registered was used. On the formation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, there was no central index of patients registered with a general medical practitioner (GP). This resulted in the rapid inflation of GP's lists as people moving about the country appeared on more than one list. The NHSCR was set up as an index to control this inflation in the early 1950s. It has acted ever since as an index to NHS patients. In 2004, it was asked to provide to the equivalent index of customers of Scottish local authorities, its unique reference number (the 'NHS number') for people who had asked to be added to the local authority database – to ensure that the local authority database accurately identifies the right person. That additional task was tested during 2006 and completed in 2007.