The UK's Queen Elizabeth II praised the “amazing” Covid-19 vaccine campaign as she celebrated the achievements of the NHS across the decades by awarding the institution the George Cross on Tuesday.
The 96-year-old head of state was joined by Prince Charles in a small Windsor Castle ceremony, in which health leaders from the four home nations were each awarded the medal.
They were joined by frontline workers from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including May Parsons, the nurse who delivered the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials to Maggie Keenan on December 8, 2020.
The queen, who moved with the aid of her now familiar walking stick, was in fine form and when told about the nurse’s historic first, she made her guests laugh with the quip: “You’re still alive?”
When the nurse told the queen how proud the NHS was of the vaccine roll-out, the queen replied: “Yes it was amazing.”
And when NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard highlighted the tens of millions who have been given the vaccine, the monarch called it “tremendous”.
When the queen asked what she would do with the medal, Ms Pritchard said it would go on a tour of the NHS before being found a permanent home.
Each health executive from the four nations and their frontline colleagues came up in turn to receive the George Cross, which had been placed on a cushion carried by the Queen’s Equerry Lt Col Tom White.
The queen touched the cushion in a gesture to symbolise its presentation.
Lt Col Michael Vernon, Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, which is responsible for organising ceremonial events, read out the George Cross citation at the start of the ceremony.
He said: “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.”