The Queen has awarded the National Health Service the George Cross for its ‘courage, compassion and dedication’ over the last eight decades. Today marks the 73rd birthday of the British institution.
A handwritten note came from Her Majesty to recognise ‘all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations’. Most letters are usually typed then signed by the Monarch, showing a personal touch to this award.
The George Cross is the UK’s highest award for gallantry and heroism for those outside of a warzone, and is made on the advice of the George Cross Committee and the Prime Minister.
This latest award is only the third time the George Cross has been given to a collective body, country or organisation, rather than an individual.
The first time was in 1942, when George VI granted the award to the island of Malta. The King recognised the heroism displayed by the island’s inhabitants during the Second World War.
More recently, in 1999, The Queen awarded the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland, in recognition of the force’s bravery.
Her note read: “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.
“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.
“You have the enduring thanks and heartfelt appreciation.”
NHS England chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said the award recognised the ‘skill, compassion and fortitude’ of staff, who had responded to ‘the worst pandemic in a century and the greatest challenge this country has faced since World War Two’.
He added that completing the Covid vaccine rollout – now in its final stages – was “the surest way out of this pandemic” and provided “a sense of hope”.
Prof Stephen Powis, NHS England medical director, said he could not be ‘prouder and more humbled’ by the work of his medical colleagues, adding that the reward recognised the contribution of the NHS since inception as well as over the last 18 months.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will attend a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral today, to honour the NHS’s contribution to the country during Covid-19, reflecting on the work and achievement of health staff, volunteers and carers.
They will then host NHS workers at Buckingham Palace, to thank them for their service. The Royals will take tea with the guests in the palace gardens, who come from a range of professions within the service.