People in West Yorkshire will be able to see the George Cross – the UK’s highest civilian gallantry medal – when it tours the country next summer, following its award to the NHS for the exceptional efforts of staff during the pandemic.
Looking ahead to the arrival of the prestigious medal in Bradford next year, a senior doctor at the city’s hospital trust has reflected on the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19 and she recalls some of the moments that brought tears of joy.
Dr Debbie Horner, Consultant in Critical Care at Bradford Teaching Hospitals, says the city had only a few weeks with low numbers of Covid patients during the pandemic, during which time staff never got a break from caring for critically ill patients.
“It was an emotional time for our team as so many patients were being admitted to intensive care, respiratory and care of the elderly wards and we knew that many wouldn’t survive,” Dr Horner recalls.
“But among all the tragedy and overwhelming sense of dealing with something so unprecedented, there were miracles.
“I remember when a new mother who had been in a coma on a ventilator saw her baby for the first time; and clapping patients off ICU with tears of joy as – after many weeks of phenomenal care by our critical team – they recovered sufficiently to continue their journeys to recovery with our amazing ward and rehabilitation teams.”
News the George Cross medal will be displayed at Bradford’s National Science and Media Museum in July 2024 has been confirmed by the NHS.
The medal was presented to NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard and May Parsons, a matron for respiratory services, by the late Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle last July. The official citation praised NHS staff for their fight against Covid in what it called ‘the greatest public health emergency in the organisation’s history’.
Dr Horner, who is also the hospital trust’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, added: “The George Cross is a reflection of the amazing efforts of our staff and everyone in the NHS who rose to the unprecedented challenge of Covid and cared for our patients with all their skill, kindness and compassion.”
Another of the NHS region’s major hospital trusts, Newcastle Upon Tyne, has also welcomed the opportunity for people in the North of England to see the George Cross next year. The city’s Royal Victoria Infirmary treated the first patients with coronavirus in the UK.
Ashley Price, Consultant Physician in Infectious Diseases, says the way the NHS responded to the pandemic from early 2020 was inspiring.
“It was able to respond very quickly and rapidly develop evidence for treatments and vaccination against Covid,” Dr Price said. “This, I think, is why the late Queen felt it right to bestow this great honour upon the NHS in recognition of its work over the previous 75 years and its response to Covid. She recognised the huge value of the NHS in preventing illness, looking after people when ill and in developing new treatment.”
The George Cross medal tour will begin on Thursday 6 July this year at London’s Science Museum as a temporary addition to Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries which is devoted to the history of medical healthcare. The medal will then be displayed at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester from February 2024 before going to Bradford. It will visit the South West in 2025.