Medical care in Belfast grew from humble roots but developed with the determination and tenacity of a relatively small number of men and women. The Belfast Charitable Society were at the forefront of healthcare provision, opening Belfast’s first infirmary (hospital) to the general public in 1774. The infirmary at the Poor House was the only medical relief in Belfast until the Dispensary opened in 1792. An advertisement had been placed in the Newsletter seeking support for Belfast’s first chemist were citizens, particularly the poor and labouring classes, could get medicine at little or no cost. The signatories of the ‘Dispensary Notice’ included Valentine Jones, Waddell Cunningham and Robert Holmes, all of whom were members of the Belfast Charitable Society.
On 3rd July 1792, at a meeting of the Belfast Charitable Society’s General Board, it was resolved to house the dispensary in the Poor House, before it had a building of its own. The Dispensary was successful for a few years but had closed around 1795/6. A meeting was held in 1798 to establish if it should be revived. Property was sought by Henry Joy, Robert Holmes and William Clarke for a new Dispensary and Fever Hospital. Once the new premises were located on Factory Row and operational, an agreement was made that all medicines required by the Poor House Infirmary were to be supplied and paid for by the Dispensary and Fever Hospital. This arrangement was not without its difficulties, but because of the personalities involved and the fact that many of them belonged to both charitable organisations, they were able to smooth out any issues which occurred.
The Belfast Charitable Society were also responsible for helping to establish the Lying-In (Maternity) Hospital, and provided land for Dr Edward Benn to build two hospitals in the latter portion of the 19th century in Glenravel Street. The last Benn Hospital only being demolished when the West Link was constructed.