London, July 5
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II on Monday awarded the George Cross gallantry award to the National Health Service (NHS) in honour of the 73rd anniversary of the country’s health service.
George Cross, among the highest honours in Britain associated with bravery in a dangerous setting, has been conferred upon the staff of the NHS across the country for having worked “with courage, compassion and dedication” for more than 70 years.
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the “unprecedented” honour recognised the “skill and fortitude” of staff through recent dark times of the pandemic.
“It is with great pleasure on behalf of a grateful nation, that I award the George Cross to the National Health Services of the United Kingdom,” reads a hand-written citation by the 95-year-old monarch.
“This award recognises all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations. Over more than seven decades, and especially in recent times, you have supported the people of our country with courage, compassion and dedication, demonstrating the highest standards of public service,” it reads.
“You have our enduring thanks and heartfelt appreciation,” it concludes.
The NHS chief paid tribute to all those in the NHS and beyond who had played their part in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This unprecedented award rightly recognises the skill and compassion and the fortitude of staff right across the National Health Service – the nurses, the paramedics, the doctors, the cleaners, the therapists, the entire team – who under the most demanding of circumstances have responded to the worst pandemic in a century and the greatest challenge this country has faced since the Second World War,” said Simon Stevens.
He said out of those dark times have come the best of what it means to be a carer and a health professional.
“In the face of adversity we have seen extraordinary team work, not just across the NHS but involving hundreds of thousands of volunteers, millions of carers, key workers and the British public who have played an indispensable role in helping the health service to look after many hundreds of thousands of seriously ill patients with coronavirus,” Stevens said.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Council Chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) which represents doctors, said the award would be a “welcome recognition” for many who feel exhausted – physically and mentally – after the gruelling challenge of the last year.
“It is also vital to ensure that healthcare professionals work in an environment where there is an adequate workforce and resources, including enough hospitals beds and facilities in general practice,” he said.
The George Cross, instituted by King George VI in 1940 during the height of World War II, is awarded for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger”.
The awarding of the George Cross by the Queen is made on the advice of the George Cross Committee and the British Prime Minister and is conferred on individuals and at times to a collective body, country or organisation, as in the case of the NHS.
Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are leading the NHS anniversary celebrations on Monday.
The royal couple will join senior NHS figures, frontline staff and patients at a thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, to celebrate the work of the health service in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
They will also host an NHS Big Tea at Buckingham Palace in London to thank NHS workers, including respiratory ward nurses, counsellors and care workers, as well as catering managers and housekeeping coordinators.
The event is organised by NHS Charities Together, which the couple have been patrons of since December 2020. The Big Tea also covers localised events across hospitals, schools and community spaces on Monday.