SUPPORT OUR JOURNALISM: Please consider donating to keep our website running and free for all - thank you!

British RoyalsThe Queen

The Queen awards the George Cross to the NHS


@RoyalFamily/Twitter

The Queen presented the George Cross—one of the United Kingdom’s highest honours—to the National Health Service for its service to the UK, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Queen announced this honour last summer on the NHS’s 73rd anniversary, releasing a handwritten statement from Windsor Castle that 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 our enduring thanks and heartfelt appreciation. Elizabeth R.”

Representatives from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland received the honour on behalf of the entire NHS in a ceremony at Windsor Castle with The Queen and Prince Charles attending.

England’s NHS was represented by a group including its Chief Executive, Amanda Pritchard, who said in a statement on their official website: “It was an incredible honour to receive the George Cross today from Her Majesty The Queen, on behalf of all NHS staff – current and former – who have given so much to care for patients and their loved ones.

“The award recognises the extraordinary courage, compassion and dedication of staff over more than 70 years, particularly in the face of the COVID pandemic.”

NHS Scotland was represented by a group including its Chief Executive, Caroline Lamb, who said in a statement later published on their official website: “Thanks to their dedication and duty our NHS has saved countless lives and the George Cross is a symbol of the country’s gratitude. I know that the rest of Scotland will join me in paying tribute and giving thanks for everything the NHS and wider social care has done for us not only during the pandemic but since its formation in 1948.”

NHS Wales was represented by a group including its Chief Executive Judith Paget, who said in a statement later published on their official website: “I saw the bravery of the staff who are the heartbeat of the NHS in caring for our friends and family at first hand. This is a great honour and a great day for all who work and who have worked for the NHS in Wales.”

The health service in Northern Ireland—which is called the Health and Social Care Northern Ireland instead of the NHS—was represented by Peter May, who is its Chief Executive and also the permanent secretary of the Department of Health.

Four George Crosses were presented in the ceremony, with Lieutenant Colonel Michael Vernon, Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office reading a citation for the honour: “It is with great pleasure, on behalf of a grateful Nation, that the George Cross is awarded 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.”

The George Cross is the highest UK honour that is not necessarily only presented to military personnel—civilians can be awarded the George Cross for acts of heroism and extreme courage in the face of extreme danger.

The NHS’s awarding of the George Cross is only the third time in the medal’s creation that it has been collectively awarded to an entity. It was awarded to the country of Malta following the Second World War and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1999.

On social media, The Royal Family shared an image of Tuesday’s service with the caption: “Congratulations and Thank You to all NHS workers, past and present.”

About author

Jess is the Senior Royal Reporter and Editorial Assistant at Royal Central. Her interest in royalty started in her teenage years, coinciding with The Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 and grew from there. She specializes in the British Royal Family (with emphasis on the Cambridges) and the Danish Royal Family, and has provided royal commentary for media outlets in Canada, the United States, the UK and Australia.