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.
The official citation for the award honour names the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care system alongside the National Health Services in England, Scotland and Wales.
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 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 O’Neill added: “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.”