In a personal, handwritten message, the Queen said NHS staff have carried out their work “with courage, compassion and dedication” for more than 70 years.
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At a glance: 5 key points
- The award recognises “all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations”
- The Government explains that the George Cross is “the highest civilian gallantry award, equivalent to the Victoria Cross”
- The award comes on the 73rd anniversary of the foundation of the NHS
- Since 1940, the award has been issued 409 times
- Details of the presentation of the award this year are yet to be announced
What’s been said
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.”
HS 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 teamwork, 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.”
The George Cross was instituted by King George VI on September 24 1940 during the height of the Blitz, and is granted in recognition of “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger”.
The award of the George Cross by the Queen is made on the advice of the George Cross Committee and the Prime Minister.
The award to the NHS marks only the third occasion on which the George Cross, which may be awarded posthumously, has been awarded to a collective body, country or organisation, rather than an individual.
In 1942, the George Cross was conferred on Malta by George VI, in recognition of the fortitude displayed by the island’s inhabitants during enemy bombardments in the Second World War.
And in 1999, the Queen awarded the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland, in recognition of the force’s bravery, including the families of those serving.
The most recent recipient of the George Cross is Dominic Troulan, a retired British Army officer and former Royal Marine.
Troulan was awarded the George Cross on June 16 2017 for his actions during the 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya.
Additional reporting by PA.
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