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NHS George Cross Medal goes on display at the Science and Industry Museum ahead of major exhibition exploring the worldwide effort to develop vaccines at pandemic speed

A new star object has been revealed at one of Manchester's most popular museums, celebrating the history of the NHS. It comes ahead of a major exhibition opening later in the year to explore the global response to the 21st century's biggest medical challenge.

The George Cross Medal that was awarded to the NHS in England by Queen Elizabeth II in 2021 has been unveiled at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. The star object is available for all visitors to enjoy for free. It is accompanied by two first-hand accounts from a front-line healthcare worker and volunteer collected through the University of Manchester’s Voices from Our NHS oral history project.

The unveiling comes ahead of a major free exhibition opening on 19 July. Injecting Hope: The race for a COVID-19 vaccine will examine the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, showcasing the intense and rapid work to develop a vaccine as well as the extraordinary efforts of the NHS in its response.  

Both the medal display and exhibition give the Science and Industry Museum opportunities to delve deeper into Greater Manchester's history of pioneering healthcare and public health in action, as well as explore its important role in many NHS developments.

George Cross Medal

The George Cross is the highest civilian gallantry award given for acts of the greatest heroism. It was awarded to the NHS in England, in recognition of the 'courage, compassion and dedication' of NHS staff and volunteers during the COVID pandemic.

The medal is given for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger, and this is only the third time the George Cross has been given to a collective body, rather than an individual.

The George Cross played a key role in the celebrations to mark the NHS's 75th anniversary, being processed into Westminster Abbey as part of a service for 2,200 NHS staff, volunteers and partners.

Among the first visitors to see the medal at the museum was Doctor and TV presenter, Xand Van Tulleken, who took time out of his visit to the current headline exhibition, Operation Ouch! Food, Poo and You, to examine the display.

Dr Xand and the George Cross

The medal's residence in the city is particularly significant given that it was in Greater Manchester 76 years ago that the NHS officially began. On 5 July 1948, Davyhulme Park Hospital, now known as Trafford General Hospital, was the first hospital to open as an NHS facility. On the same day, Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, health minister and founder of the NHS, visited the hospital and met 13-year-old Sylvia Beckingham, the first NHS patient.  

Since then, the city has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including the birth of the world's first IVF baby in the Royal Oldham Hospital. Louise Brown was born at on 25 July 1978 and since then, IVF has been used to help millions of families have children across the world. 

Find out more about Manchester’s history of public health innovation in this Science and Industry Museum blog.

Injecting Hope: The race for a COVID-19 vaccine 

From a display highlighting the NHS's history and past achievements, to an exhibition exploring one of its biggest and most recent challenges. Injecting Hope: The race for a COVID-19 vaccine, will investigate the worldwide effort to develop vaccines at pandemic speed and uncover inspiring stories of the scientists and innovators who collaborated around the globe.

With more than 100 objects to discover, highlights include the vial of the first COVID-19 vaccine to be administered worldwide, personal items belonging to those at the heart of its development and a breathtaking piece of art by Angela Palmer supporting visitors to visualise the virus that swept across the world.

For the first time during its run at the Science and Industry Museum, visitors will be able to explore never-before-displayed objects that tell Manchester's unique story of the pandemic and how the city responded to this global challenge.

Injecting Hope: The race for a COVID-19 vaccine comes to the Science and Industry Museum as part of an international tour, which has seen the Science Museum Group partner with the National Council of Science Museums in India and the Guangdong Science Center in China to open the exhibition in international venues and highlight the worldwide nature of this issue and response.

Steven Leech, Curator of Exhibitions at the Science and Industry Museum, said: 

'We are delighted to have NHS England's George Cross Medal on display at the museum. Greater Manchester has a pioneering history of healthcare, from its role as the first industrial city highlighting the need for public health measures, to it being the location of the first NHS hospital and even the birthplace of the world's first IVF baby, the city region is brimming with medical history and having the medal here gives us a great opportunity to open up these conversations.

'The medal also allows for a brilliant opportunity to reflect on the incredible impact of the NHS, not just locally but across the country and globe. It’s a particularly poignant time to do this, in the wake of the 21st century's biggest medical challenge, and we’re excited to build on this when we open Injecting Hope later in the year to further reflect on and explore the Manchester and the world's response.'

The George Cross medal is on display now until January 2025 in the main entrance of the museum. Injecting Hope: The race for a COVID-19 vaccine will open in our Special Exhibitions Gallery from 19 July – 17 November 2024, with free tickets available to book from later this year.  

The museum is currently undergoing a multi-million-pound restoration project. This means some areas are temporarily closed and some of our buildings look a little different due to scaffolding, but there is still plenty of exciting experiences on offer. Explore some of the year-round highlights with the museum’s top 40 things to see, do and discover and sign up to its newsletter to be among the first to receive announcements about the full 2024 programme.

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NOTES TO EDITORS    

For more information on the Science and Industry Museum, please contact communications manager, Alex Urmston, on 07741 103 790/ alex.urmston@scienceandindustrymuseum.org.uk

ABOUT THE SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY MUSEUM

The Science and Industry Museum tells the story of where science met industry and the modern world began. Manchester was one of the first global industrial cities, and its epic rise, decline and resurrection has been echoed in countless other cities around the world.   

The museum's mission is to inspire all its visitors, including future scientists and inventors, with the story of how ideas can change the world, from the industrial revolution to today and beyond.   

The Science and Industry Museum site is on the site of the Liverpool Road Station terminus of the Liverpool Manchester Railway, the world's first purpose-built passenger railway. Among its internationally significant buildings are the world's first passenger railway station and the oldest existing railway goods warehouse. In total there are two Grade I listed buildings and four Grade II listed buildings on the site.  

The museum is currently undergoing a multi-million-pound regeneration project that will see brand new spaces opened and significant improvements made to some of its best-loved galleries.  

The Science and Industry Museum is part of the Science Museum Group, a family of museums which also includes the Science Museum in London; the National Railway Museum in York and Shildon; and the Science and Media Museum in Bradford. The Science Museum Group is devoted to the history and contemporary practice of science, medicine, technology, industry and media. With five million visitors each year and an unrivalled collection, it is the most significant group of museums of science and innovation worldwide.