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Queen awards NHS the George Cross ‘on behalf of a grateful nation’


The Queen has awarded the George Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest award for gallantry and heroism, to the NHS for over seventy years of public service and more recently during the pandemic for ‘supporting the people of our country with courage, compassion and dedication.’


In a poignant handwritten personal message, the Queen said:


“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. Elizabeth R.”



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.


Prime Minister Boris Johnson commented:


“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 in recognition of their continuing and heroic struggle against repeated and continuous attacks during the Second World War.


It was also granted to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the fore-runner of the Police Service of Northern Ireland) on 23 November 1999 for the collective and sustained bravery of police officers and their families.


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.



Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann has warmly welcomed the awarding of the George Cross by Her Majesty the Queen to the National Health Services of the United Kingdom.


Minister Swann stated:


“This is a very special and poignant day. The George Cross is the highest civilian gallantry award and has only been bestowed collectively twice before. It recognises decades of dedicated service by the National Health Services, including the courageous work by staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“This is for everyone working across Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care system at all levels. We will be forever indebted to them - for their commitment, compassion and expertise.


“The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been the biggest challenge faced by the health service since its inception. The response from our health and care staff has been both inspirational and humbling. They are indeed the best of us.


“It is particularly fitting that the award is announced as the UK marks the 73rd birthday of the NHS. I am in no doubt that the National Health Service is one of society’s finest achievements. Her Majesty’s announcement reflects the special place it has in our hearts.”


Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said:


“In referring to the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care system, the George Cross award citation acknowledges our integrated system of care, which is unique across the UK regions.


“Today is a time for reflection on all the ways the health service has cared for us, individually and collectively.


“I have seen up close how the health and care system has responded to the pandemic, protecting people from the virus and saving many lives.


“The problems facing our modern day health service are well documented. However, we should not forget that it continues to provide world class, compassionate care to people day in and day out.”



First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill have also commended our Health and Social Care workers following news of the receipt of the George Cross award. First Minister Paul Givan said:


“The award of the George Cross by Her Majesty The Queen honours the every day heroism of our amazing health and social care workers in the battle against Covid-19.


“This is a fitting tribute to their collective and sustained efforts to provide comfort, care and hope during some very difficult and dark times.


“It recognises the personal toll this has taken on many health workers and their families and remembers all those who gave their lives in the service of others.


“We owe an immense debt of gratitude to all those who courageously stepped forward. In doing so, they followed the great tradition of the National Health Service to look after everyone with respect, dignity and compassion.”


Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said:


“It is appropriate that the heroic efforts and enormous contribution of our health and social care staff is acknowledged and recognised. And for many within our local HSC, today’s announcement will be very much appreciated. “Our society is indebted to all of our health workers who continue to work on the frontline in the battle against Covid. Their selflessness and courage in responding to this deadly virus on a day and daily basis has been exemplary. “What is also now required is significant investment from the Westminster Government into our health service, and our workers, in order to continue providing the public services on which all of us so heavily depend.”