The Queen awards the George Cross to the National Health Services of the United Kingdom

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The National Health Services of the United Kingdom have been awarded the George Cross by Her Majesty The Queen. The award comes in recognition of 73 years of dedicated service, including for the courageous efforts of healthcare workers across the country battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The George Cross – the highest civilian gallantry award, equivalent to the Victoria Cross – has only been bestowed collectively twice before, and today marks the second time it has been awarded collectively by Queen Elizabeth II.

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.

“Collectively, over more than seven decades, they 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 of us all.”

Welcoming the “unprecedented” honour, bestowed collectively for only the third time, NHS Chief Executive Sir Simon Stevens said that the “dark times” of the coronavirus pandemic had brought out “the best” in health and care staff.

And the NHS chief paid tribute to all those in the NHS and beyond who had played their part in responding to the “greatest challenge this country has faced since the Second World War”.

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.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson added:

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without our health services. NHS staff have cared for us and our friends and family on the frontline of a pandemic for over a year, and I have witnessed their courage first-hand.

“Thanks to their devotion and duty our NHS has saved countless lives, and the George Cross is a symbol of the nation’s gratitude. I know the whole of the UK is behind me in paying tribute and giving thanks for everything the NHS has done for us not only in the last year, but since its inception.”

The George Cross was first bestowed collectively to the people of Malta on 15 April 1942 by King George VI and was granted to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the fore-runner of the Police Service of Northern Ireland) on 23 November 1999.

The George Cross is the UK’s highest civilian gallantry award, equivalent to the military Victoria Cross. It sits at the top of the UK’s honours system, jointly with the Victoria Cross. It is given for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger. The George Cross was instituted in 1940.

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