Nurses have been praised for putting others before themselves “even in the face of death” as their contribution amid the pandemic was recognised at Westminster Abbey.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and actress Helena Bonham Carter, who is a descendant of healthcare pioneer Florence Nightingale, gave readings during the service.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth were also among the socially distanced congregation of 60 people, and the event was live streamed.
Giving an address, the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, said: “Over the last year nurses, midwives and health visitors across the world have been a sign of hope.
“You have rolled up your sleeves (well above the elbows unless covered by PPE) and you have given yourselves more than either we or you would have imagined, and we are profoundly thankful.”
She said nurses had given “dignity and care” as well as “comfort and hope” to patients.
Dame Sarah, a former nurse, said healthcare professionals have “taken on new roles, stepped up to think of others before yourselves – even in the face of death”.
She added: “We must not forget what Covid has taught us, in particular your value as nurses and midwives and also of society’s inequalities.
“Hope never domesticates, never settles down. It has the courage to put things right.”
Before giving a reading, Bonham Carter said the nurses of today have faced “the steepest learning curve of their careers” during the pandemic.
The service, which takes place annually to mark Florence Nightingale’s birthday on May 12 – now known as International Nurses’ Day – was postponed last year.
This year, it recognised the contribution and sacrifice of nurses and midwives since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK.
A procession, led by Ruheana Begum – a Florence Nightingale scholar and matron at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation – carrying a lamp, also took place.
The tradition paid tribute to Nightingale’s work in Crimea when she carried out her night rounds tending to wounded soldiers while holding a lantern, earning her the title The Lady with the Lamp.
The Dean of Westminster, Dr David Hoyle, conducted the service.
He told the congregation: “We look around us in gratitude for the effort so many have made to bring us to a place of greater safety and yet grieve for those in communities still devastated by illness and grief.
“We pray in the midst of a pandemic, acknowledging both an effort made, and an effort ahead.
“We do that as we honour the memory of Florence Nightingale in whom compassion and care had the power to deliver not just healing, but change.”