Throughout history, nurses have been the backbone of healthcare, providing comfort and support to those in need. The theme of this year’s International Nurses Week is Our Nurses, Our Future, and we want to pay tribute to the incredible nurses who fought to transform the way nursing is delivered by advocating for new approaches to care that evolved best practices and look at how the past actions of passionate souls paved the way for the future of nursing today.
Today at Sundial Care Home in Tipton St John, a part of Evolve Care Group, we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate Moya Finch, a family member here and a remarkable human being who has spent her equally remarkable life as a mental health nurse fighting for people’s rights, being a voice for the voiceless, and being a role model for her daughter Nina, who grew up watching her mum become a creator of hope. This is a story of a mental health nurse who left people’s lives better than when she found them.
Moya’s life story begins in the cathedral city of St. Albans in Hertfordshire during the spring of 1947. A precocious child, Moya discovered a love for words at school, winning several medals and cups for her poetry and reading recitals. She left secondary school with several qualifications, however, the swinging ’60s had arrived, and music, dance, and having fun as a teenager took hold. “Mum always said that was a magical time”, her daughter, Nina, tells me. “She was a huge Beatles fan and Paul McCartney was her favourite Beatle.”
Caught up in the changing times the sixties brought along, Moya wasn’t keen to continue learning at this time, preferring to train as a hairdresser at a local salon. This later led her to work within the salon at the local Psychiatric hospital where her mum, Vera, who would remain a great influence to Moya throughout her life, was working as a Nurse.
In the meantime, at the age of 17, a man came into Moya’s life, sweeping her off her feet as they began what Moya called “a courtship.” It was her future husband, Derek. Moya was still working at the hairdressers within the hospital when they married and discovering her skills and empathy for people living with specialist needs, she began her training as a Psychiatric Nurse.
However, her training was put on hold when she became pregnant with her daughter, Nina. Wanting to be close to her during that first special stage of life, Moya spent 6 years getting to know her new pride and joy before returning to her studies. “I remember as a young child seeing mum sitting on the sofa with piles of books and papers surrounding her, studying and reading until late, soaking up everything and enjoying what she was discovering.” Moya excelled in her studies and qualified as a Staff Nurse in the early 70s. She worked on various wards gaining valuable knowledge, making friends, and enjoying her new career. “This was a great time for us as a family, particularly me, as my grandmother and mother worked at the same hospital on opposite shifts so that I could be looked after. When I was about 6, I remember dancing around a large sunlit dining room with a big red carpet for all the older ladies on the ward while I waited for my mum to finish her shift.”
Moya was very quickly promoted from Staff Nurse to Sister before becoming a Senior Nurse Manager, managing wards that specialised in forensic psychiatry and often taking responsibility when the need arose for the whole hospital. Keen to develop best practice on her wards, Moya completed further courses and exams. “I remember Mum going away for several months to work at Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire. She would return at weekends and although tired at times, she relished her experiences.” Moya was a pivotal member of her team to recognise new and progressive approaches and nursing practices and would apply what she had learned to establish them within the confides of an inpatient setting – a very challenging area of psychiatry.
Some of these progressive approaches can be recognised in Sundial today, such as the decision to not wear uniforms as this denoted a hierarchy of power. Nina explained that it was all about ‘working in partnership with people who were enduring mental health problems and not promoting disempowerment.’ Sundial Care Home where Moya now lives is one of the first care homes to remove a uniform policy to help diminish the feeling of an institution and break down barriers between the team and residents, who they refer to as family members.
Nina recently found an article from Caring Today magazine written in the mid 80’s when Moya was still a Sister, exploring a new model of care her team had launched that adopted advanced approaches for supporting people with enduring mental health issues. The article was titled ‘No ‘Jailer’ Syndrome in their Philosophy of Care: Napsbury’s New Approach’, with the Senior Nurse Manager explaining “we are not jailers, we are carers.”
The article describes how Moya had supported the team’s Manager to deliver behavioural and psychological programmes that had been tailor-made to suit the needs of the individual. There is even a quote from Moya herself, saying ‘Although you might say we are as yet only 20 percent off the ground, the new approach has already led to dramatic improvements in standards of care and staff motivation and morale.’
Moya went above and beyond what was expected of her role at that time to meet the emotional needs of the people in her care which led to some truly exceptional accomplishments in her field. The Caring Magazine article introduces her as Sister Finch, “who gives generously of her own time to raise money to finance extra activities to enhance the quality of residents’ lives and their potential for rehabilitation. Thanks to her and Charge Nurse Groves, some of the most disturbed people have been able to enjoy a series of holidays.’ Napsbury’s Operational Manager, Jan Bergman, said, “She’s very modest, but she does a tremendous amount of dedicated work in many areas”, which included the organisation of holidays.
The first holiday was to Butlins in Somerset and Nina and her Dad, Derek, even joined the group. “Mum and several nurses, a social worker plus a consultant psychiatrist were all there throughout the week. Of course, robust risk assessment was completed prior, but the holiday was a great success with lots of fun, laughing, and good times. My Dad even drove the bus! It highlights to me how different things were back then, I don’t think this would happen today. However, before community care came into force, my mum and her colleagues were promoting community integration with the most marginalised people in society.”
It wasn’t just Moya’s professional life that made her family proud of her. Nina shared a touching story about a memorable outing with her mum to a local café where Moya was treating her to pancakes. “A young man came in and the staff refused to serve him. They were goading this gent about his facial disfigurement and trying to get him out of the café. My mother immediately stood up from her table, recognising the gent as a patient she had known in the past, and voiced her concern as to how this man was being treated. She invited him to sit with us for a meal and needless to say, there were a few red faces from the proprietors and apologies expressed. I was slightly embarrassed as a child but secretly very proud of my mum for advocating for this gent in the most exemplary way.”
With the amount of passion Moya felt for people’s rights and the progress she was making in her field, it isn’t surprising she was invited to be interviewed on TV about her work. “I can’t recall exactly what programme it was”, Nina said, “but I remember it was a national news item and avidly waiting by the TV for my mum to appear. I watched her speak so eloquently about the need to change attitudes and demystifying misconceptions. I was again, so proud of her. I had an amazing role model to look up to.”
Moya worked for over 25 years as a Psychiatric Nurse, and Nina explains she has offered us only the smallest glimpse of the memories she has as a small child, watching her mum shine light on her small corner of the world. “I know there is so much more to say about my mum and her love for the art and science of nursing. Some people are just endowed with an innate ability to reach people – my mum was one of them. I am so amazed at what she did for people both professionally and personally. She was a wonderful mum with such kindness and compassion for others. She seemed to have endless empathy, brilliant wit, and faultless integrity. This world was made slightly better by you mum. I love you, and I thank you so much for all you did for all those people throughout your career.”
This compassion for others echoes in Nina, who has followed in her mum’s footsteps and trained as a mental health nurse before completing a degree in occupational therapy, which she says was Moya’s influence. “I remember stepping into an OT department at mum’s hospital at the age of 9yrs and thinking how great it was! I relate to the values and philosophies of OT wholeheartedly, and Mum was the same. She was a big advocate for it and for enabling people to do the things they need to do to be themselves. So much of this can be lost with dementia if we are not careful.” Despite managing four wards Moya would still often give her free time to sit around with her patients, trying to empower them to do activities that meant a lot to them and reinforced their identity.
And now, it’s time for us to do the same. Sadly, Moya now lives with Dementia and it’s time for her to be given the care and compassion that she gave to others her whole life by the loving team at Sundial Care Home. The home, which has a CQC rating of Outstanding, has gained its high rating by implementing a model of care that advocates the same approaches to care that Moya believed in.
Although Moya is on a different journey now, Sundial, along with Nina and her family, are supporting her to live a continuation of life that is true to herself. Just as she did in the swinging sixties, Moya’s love for music from that era has stayed with her and her world continues to the soundtrack of the Bee Gees, The Beach Boys, and her absolute favourite, the Carpenters. She loves her pamper sessions where the team gets the ladies together to do their hair and paint their nails, strolls around Sundial’s gardens, and observing everything and everyone around her. When life becomes overwhelming, comfort can be found in her family, her friends at Sundial, and in her hug doll that plays her favourite song and has a heartbeat that soothes her.
Nina says Sundial has encouraged and supported her mum’s need to nurture and be nurtured. “The team has reported that mum will often hold the other family members’ hands, put shawls around their shoulders, or just sit with them in their rooms if they’re okay with mum being there.” Dementia can take a lot of a person’s identity, but people’s true nature still shines through.
We honour Moya’s life and service by pledging to continue to lead by her example and never stop advocating for improving standards for both our nurses and our family members who we trust in their care. We will provide ongoing training through our Evolve Care Academy to our team to empower them to deliver the quality of compassionate care that Moya advocated for her whole life, both on the wards professionally, and hopefully, like Moya, when we’re off shift in café’s, and we have the chance to speak up and be kind to someone who needs it.
Nina is the third generation of her family and belongs to a legacy of nurses who have come before her and will come after her. Moya carried and passed on the baton of care, compassion, and excellence to her and we truly hope the future of nursing is filled with nurses like the Finch’s, who continue to inspire those around them.
We need more Moya’s in the world. We’re grateful to have one in ours.