THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: From the News Letter of March 1991

A right royal rumpus; fears world famous hospital

By Darryl Armitage
Friday, 26th March 2021, 10:00 am
Belfast Royal Hospital in Frederick Street: the courtyard. Watercolour. Picture: Wellcome Trust (
Belfast Royal Hospital in Frederick Street: the courtyard. Watercolour. Picture: Wellcome Trust (

In March 1991 the News Letter reported that plans for Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital to apply for self-governing status had been slammed.

Health union chief Hugh Miskelly claimed that the new scheme could lead to the demise of the world-renowned hospital and complained that the people who used the services had not been consulted.

The announcement that the Royal Group had formally decided to apply for Trust status within the National Health Service had come only a week after a leading GP had warned that the overhaul of the NHS would turn it into a “cattle market” where doctors would have to “barter for finance”.

However, in spite of the fears of health unions, some doctors and politicians, the Royal Group had made its mind up.

A formal application for Trust status was to be made at the end of April 1991 to the Department of Health and Social Services which was to arrange a three-month public consultation period before a decision is reached.

Consultant surgeon William Odling-Smee, chairman of the Royal Board of Clinical Directors, said Trust status would be to the benefit of patients, the community and staff.

“As a trust, the Royal Group will remain part of the National Health Service and Northern Ireland health and social services, be non-profit making and continue to provide services free to patients,” he remarked.

Unit general manager of the Royal Group, William McKee, said: “The benefits of being a Trust are real. Properly managed, the resources available to the Royal hospitals as a health and social services trust will enable us to improve our facilities for the benefit of patients.”

Mr Miskelly, regional officer of health union, COHSE, described the Royal’s application as a retrograde step.

He said: “It will be clearly designed to ensure that only the more glamorous sides of medicine are concentrated on and will obviously create a situation where patients urgently in need of health care, including life-saving operations, will be substantially disadvantaged.”