In a personal, handwritten message on Windsor Castle-headed paper, the monarch said the award recognised all NHS staff in all four nations “past and present”.
The award comes on the 73rd anniversary of the NHS’s foundation.
The George Cross ranks alongside the Victoria Cross as Britain’s highest award for gallantry. Instituted by King George VI in 1940, it is intended to grant recognition of “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most courage in circumstances of extreme danger”.
The cross is awarded on the advice of the George Cross Committee and the prime minister,
In her message to the NHS, 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.”
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens congratulated staff across the health service, saying: “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.”
The new health secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “Those working in the NHS have done an incredible job caring for so many during this awful pandemic. The George Cross is the highest possible honour a civilian can achieve and I want to pay tribute to everyone across the NHS for their heroism and sacrifice.”
A report from the Commons Health and Social Care Committee last month showed NHS staff have reached an “emergency” level of burnout after working through the pandemic.
Earlier this week Andy Murray joined condemnation of the government for the “pathetic” 1 per cent pay rise given to NHS workers. Speaking to reporters after a Wimbledon match, he added: “They obviously deserve a lot more than that. They have done an amazing job getting us through the pandemic.”
In March, Boris Johnson insisted the 1 per cent pay rise allocated to NHS staff was as much as the government could afford amid the financially tight times of the pandemic.
The BMA has said it will consult its members about taking industrial action if the pay rise offer is not improved, while the Royal College of Nursing has already said it will consider balloting over industrial action. It has called for a 12.5 per cent pay rise this year.
Additional reporting by PA
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies