The head of England’s NHS has today praised the exceptional efforts and skill of health service staff across the country, after being presented the George Cross by Her Majesty The Queen at Windsor Castle.
In an audience at Windsor Castle, NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard was joined by May Parsons, a matron for respiratory services who delivered the world’s first COVID vaccination in December 2020, to receive the award.
The George Cross, awarded to the four National Health Services of the UK, is in recognition of over 74 years of service including the exceptional efforts of NHS staff across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic. The presentation came exactly one week after the NHS’ birthday.
The award, created in 1940, sits at the top of the UK honour’s system joint with the military Victoria Cross and is the highest civilian gallantry award. It is given for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.
Today marked only the third time the George Cross has been awarded to a collective body, rather than an individual. It was previously awarded to Malta in 1942 and to the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1999.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “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.
“So it was particularly special to receive it alongside May, who made history when she delivered the world’s first Covid jab outside of the clinical trial, kick-starting the most successful vaccination programme in NHS history.
“The story of the NHS is one of adaption and innovation as the health service addresses the changing needs of each generation and that has never been more true than during the pandemic when health service staff’s can-do spirit shone through.
“As we look forward to the NHS’s 75th birthday next year, we will use that same determination and agility to address the challenges we face in the next phase of the response to COVID.
“I was deeply honoured but also humbled to play a part in this momentous ceremony and represent the 1.5 million brilliant, dedicated and heroic NHS staff across England.”
May Parsons said: “It was a real privilege to be asked to join Amanda today, and be chosen to represent the countless members of NHS staff – my colleagues – who have gone over and above, not just during the pandemic but throughout the more than seven decades of health service history.
“Getting to deliver the first vaccine to Maggie just a year and a half ago was such a significant moment, that made me so proud of everything we do as healthcare staff, and today is yet another truly once in a lifetime experience for me.
“I am so humbled by the lovely messages I have received from people up and down the country, and to meet the Queen herself – this is definitely a day I will never forget!”
Amanda and May were joined by chief executives and frontline workers from the other UK nations, including a senior A&E nurse, award-winning palliative care nurse, and ICU consultant to receive the award on behalf of their health services.