The Queen has given the George Cross to the National Health Service, recognising its staff – past and present – across the UK.
Created in 1940 by King George VI, the George Cross is awarded in recognition of “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger”, and has been given to the NHS on the advice of the George Cross Committee and the prime minister.
In her message, on Windsor Castle-headed paper, the Queen wrote: “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 our enduring thanks and heartfelt appreciation.”
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “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.
“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.
“And so, as we congratulate staff across the health service on this award, we recognise that completing the NHS COVID vaccination programme which is in the final stages is now the surest way out of this pandemic and provides a sense of hope.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Those working in the NHS have done an incredible job caring for so many during this awful pandemic.
“The George Cross is the highest possible honour a civilian can achieve and I want to pay tribute to everyone across the NHS for their heroism and sacrifice.”
Elsewhere, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will celebrate the NHS’s 73rd anniversary by holding a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, with its workers being placed “at the heart” of the socially-distanced service.
Later on, the pair will host the NHS Big Tea in Buckingham Palace’s gardens, and pay tribute to those who have gone above and beyond over the course of the pandemic.
Respiratory ward nurses, counsellors, care workers, catering managers and housekeeping co-ordinators will be among those meeting the royal couple.
It’s one of several Big Tea events taking place around the UK, which has been organised by NHS Charities Together organisation, and gives local communities the chance to thank staff and volunteers for their work during the pandemic.