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27/11/2009

Belfast Military Wards To Close

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The closure of a military hospital unit in Northern Ireland has been announced in Westminster.

The news came as the Junior Defence Minister Kevan Jones said the Duke of Connaught Military Hospital facility, based at Musgrave Park Hospital, south Belfast, would shut by April next year.

In a Commons written statement, Mr Jones said a commercial contract with an independent service provider represented the "most effective and efficient" means of providing secondary healthcare for regular military personnel.

The move comes after a review of the number of military bases in Northern Ireland as part of the Peace Process, he explained.

Playwright, Graham Reed immortalised the facility in his six-part drama series for the BBC, Ties of Blood, in the episode, 'Military Wing' in 1985, which was directed by James Ormerod. Although filmed in the NHS's Whiteabbey Hospital, it was loosely based on Musgrave Park's military facility.

However, in advance of the Duke of Connaught Unit replacing the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) wards during the defence cuts of the 1990s - there was much more bloody real-life drama when an IRA bomb killed two soldiers.

On 2 November 1991, the unit was busier than normal because some off duty staff were watching the Rugby World Cup Final on TV that afternoon.

The blast killed one member of the RAMC, Warrant Officer Philip Arthur Cross and one member of the Royal Corps of Transport, Craig Pantry.

It also injured nine members of the Army Medical Services as well as a five-year-old girl and a four-month-old baby.

The bomb - containing 20lb of Semtex - exploded in a service tunnel that connected the Withers block to the RAMC Ward.

That block housed the childrens' and the orthopaedic wards.

Meanwhile, the last floating survivor of a pivotal First World War sea battle will be decommissioned by the end of the year.

The Royal Navy has confirmed that its training ship, HMS Caroline, which has been moored in Belfast since 1924, needs around £3.5 million worth of refurbishment, which it cannot afford.

The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve is moving to Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn in 2010 with the vessel's future now uncertain.

(BMcC/KMcA)

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