Nurses will be recognised for their contribution and sacrifice throughout the coronavirus pandemic during a service at Westminster Abbey attended by actress Helena Bonham Carter.
The star, who is a relative of healthcare pioneer Florence Nightingale, has hailed nurses as “heroes”, particularly for their work in the past year.
Bonham Carter’s great-great-grandmother was an aunt of Nightingale – who became known as The Lady with the Lamp.
The Crown star will give a reading at the London service, which takes place each year around the time of Nightingale’s birthday on May 12 – now International Nurses’ Day.
Due to social distancing, just 60 people will attend rather than the venue’s normal capacity of 2,200, but a livestream will be available on the abbey’s website.
Ahead of the event, Bonham Carter said: “I’m honoured to be part of this special service. Us actors regularly get awards for basically pretending to be heroines, but we all know that, particularly this last year, it is the nurses who are the real heroes and deserve real recognition.
“They have been there for our loved ones – our mothers, our fathers, our friends – providing care and comfort to patients during this horrendous pandemic. Some have lost their lives. They have selflessly put their lives on hold to support others under the most stressful of circumstances and we are all indebted to them.
“Just like Florence Nightingale who nursed soldiers injured on battlefields of the Crimea, nurses today have been fighting for lives on the front line of the pandemic.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it will be a “privilege” to attend the service in person “to commemorate Florence Nightingale and all those brilliant individuals who have chosen to follow in her footsteps to this day”.
He added: “Today’s service will be a time of reflection and gratitude for our incredible nurses and midwives who have worked day and night to care for patients and give them hope, at a time that has tested all of us, not least those on the front line.”
Members of the public are being encouraged to thank nurses and midwives by donating to the Florence Nightingale Foundation’s white rose appeal, which last year raised £88,000.
The money raised helped fund access to emotional and wellbeing support.
Bonham Carter’s great-great-uncle, Walter Bonham Carter, helped establish the foundation in 1934, and the star said she feels she has “inherited a family responsibility” to support it.
She added: “Us BCs have traditionally been good and useful executive guardians of the great woman’s vision.
“I also hold a great personal gratitude to the countless nurses who cared for my father during his 24 years of disability.”
Professor Greta Westwood, chief executive of the foundation, said: “During the pandemic nurses and midwives have worked 12-hour shifts in PPE, moved away from loved ones to protect them from Covid-19 and faced challenges never encountered before.
“They have come to work day in and day out, on empty, always ready to support their colleagues and patients.
“Today we honour, thank and remember the nurses and midwives who have never hesitated to help others during this pandemic; they are Florence Nightingale’s legacy today.”
The service will be conducted by the Dean of Westminster, Dr David Hoyle, while the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, will give an address.
A livestream of the service at 5pm on Wednesday can be watched here.