Florence Nightingale would be “roaring” about the 1% pay rise offer for health staff, her relative Helena Bonham Carter has said.
The Crown star said the renowned nurse who became known as The Lady With the Lamp would challenge the offer as a “pitiful reflection” of their work in the past year.
The actress spoke after a service at Westminster Abbey which paid tribute to nurses and midwives for their work during the pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock also attended and met nurses after the event in London on Wednesday.
Bonham Carter, whose great-great-grandmother was Nightingale’s aunt, said nurses have “always been underappreciated”.
Asked about the 1% pay rise offered to health staff, which the NHS Pay Review Body is currently considering, she said she feels everyone wants to give them more.
She told the PA news agency: “I’m always hesitant as an actor to speak, does my opinion really count?
“I’d almost certainly say that my relative, Florence Nightingale, she’d be roaring today.
“I shouldn’t really put words into her mouth but I think she would… certainly challenge this decision and say that this is really a pitiful reflection of what they’ve done for everyone this year.”
She said it would be “the right direction” if the offer was increased.
The Royal College of Nursing has called for a 12.5% rise for nurses.
Bonham Carter said: “Think of it, every single Thursday everyone clapped. That wasn’t empty gratitude. I think everybody in this country wants to give them, even if they tax us more.”
She said her father’s long illness, during which he was cared for by numerous nurses, had made her aware of their low wages.
She said: “When my dad was ill all those years ago, I was 13 and I remember realising they were being paid something like £2 an hour, and I remember talking about it with my family and saying ‘I don’t understand it, we need them the most and they’re being paid the least’.
“Their hours are horrendous and the stress and the pressure that they’re under, and we need them the most.”
Mr Johnson and Bonham Carter gave readings at the service, which had a socially distanced congregation of 60 people.
Those gathered heard nurses being praised for putting others before themselves “even in the face of death”.
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.”
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”.
The service, which takes place annually to mark Florence Nightingale’s birthday on May 12 – now known as International Nurses’ Day – had to be postponed last year due to the pandemic.
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 in the Abbey.
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.
Those in attendance wore white roses as part of the Florence Nightingale Foundation’s white rose appeal, which last year raised £88,000 to help fund access to emotional and wellbeing support.
Looking forward to the next stage of the road map out of lockdown on Monday, Bonham Carter said she is most excited about hugging people again.
She told PA: “There’s going to be obviously massive hugs, and I want to eat inside and just see people, inside.”