Julie Bolus, inspirational Nurse Lead and Non-Executive Director at NAPC, died in April aged 57, just two weeks after being diagnosed with an aggressive, inoperable brain tumour.
All who knew and worked for her, both within NAPC and externally, referred to her indefatigable energy and drive, her passion for quality and excellence, her humanity, warmth and kindness and her unfailing sense of humour.
In interviews with her NAPC colleagues, Julie emerged not just as an inspirational champion of excellence but as a warm and compassionate human being, who enjoyed a good laugh, sharing her favourite recipes and was not averse to a tipple or two.
Faculty member Cheryl McKay painted a compelling picture of this ‘force of nature’. ‘You couldn’t fail to be with her and not feel her energy. Even when Julie didn’t feel her best, she breathed life into a room.
‘Julie told it like it is: she was honest yet kind, direct yet compassionate. I had the great privilege of working a great deal with her and I got to call her my friend. I miss you Julie, but I am putting my big girl pants on, watching your jam tarts video and raising a large gin (or three) to you.’
In interviews with NAPC clients, Julie emerged as someone who was brilliant at building relationships with people at all levels and giving them the know-how and the confidence to bring their plans to fruition.
In 2020 Julie worked successfully with NHS Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to get the population health agenda off the ground with the five local Primary Care Networks (PCNs). ‘We had already had a think about population health management and knew what direction we wanted to take’, said Emma Bownas, Senior Primary Care Quality and Improvement Manager. ‘Julie supported us to have confidence in our plans and make them come alive. The fact that she always found a way to move forward is exemplified by the fact that she got buy-in from everyone involved – in the midst of a pandemic!’
Julie Bolus knew she wanted to be a nurse from an early age, according to husband David, and pursued her nursing training straight after leaving school. After qualifying in 1985, she developed an early interest in primary and community care and went on to enjoy an impressive variety of governance roles, culminating in the role of Director of Nursing with the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Area Team of NHS England, a role she retired from in 2015. She had been a NED at Locala until late 2020 and held her NED role at NAPC and her more recent NED appointment at Hull University Teaching Hospitals Trust until she died.
Previous roles included Director of Nursing at NHS North Yorkshire and York PCT cluster, Director of Nursing and Quality with Doncaster PCT, and Director of Clinical Development with Leeds North East PCT.
Julie met David, a clinical informatics specialist, when they were both working at Bradford Health Authority in the mid-1990s. At that stage she was already mother to three young sons from a previous marriage.
As a single mother she was already a breadwinner but with David’s support she was able to advance her career.
‘She had a whirlwind-like work ethic’, says David, ‘and her energy and enthusiasm were phenomenal. She was never an ambitious person, but her abilities and leadership qualities shone out and that took her to great heights.
‘She was generous in the work she did with others rather than looking for self-aggrandisement. She always just wanted to do the best she could for patients and the profession.’
Julie’s career was marked by a passion for quality. When she joined Locala, a large community provider in West Yorkshire, as a NED in the summer of 2016, the organisation had been rated as inadequate at its last CQC inspection, but Julie played a key role in ensuring it was rated ‘good’ in every domain and service 18 months later.
‘She chaired the Board’s quality subcommittee’, said CEO Karen Jackson, ‘and her drive, encouragement and support really helped us because this was a tough ride. At the same time, she showed tremendous kindness to the staff, who were feeling bruised and battered.
‘Julie was the consummate nurse – everything you imagine that a nurse should be. She was professional, precise, absolutely focused on quality and relentless in her energy, but at the same time kind, compassionate and caring, not just about patients but also the people providing care. She was very funny, and we laughed a lot with Julie, but she set the quality bar very high, and she would never let us off the hook if things weren’t good enough.’
In 2020 Julie worked on behalf of NAPC with two CCGs to advance their population health management agendas. In NHS Calderdale CCG, mentioned earlier, each of the PCNs had chosen to focus on a specific long term condition that reflected a need within their practices. NAPC worked with their data systems to identify patients with risk factors, and the PCNs then decided on the most appropriate interventions from a range of medical and non-medical providers.
‘Julie was the glue in all of this’, said Emma Bownas. ‘She sold the PCNs the idea that this was a good thing to do and involved other people from the practices so that they were not just looking through a medical lens. Her great skill was to be able to establish relationships with all levels of people and then pull in the necessary expertise from NAPC.’
In NHS Bradford District and Craven CCG, Julie facilitated a ‘kickstarter’ conversation with all the local PCNs around population health. ‘It was brilliant’, recalls Vicki Wallace, Interim Strategic Director for Transformation and Change, ‘delivered in a style that was genuine, transparent and accessible. Julie was always warm, engaging and full of energy. She put the va va voom into every situation. You might be knackered but it you had a conversation with her she put infectious, positive energy into the room and made you feel heard and valued.’
In 2015 Julie took early retirement from the NHS and joined David as co-Director of their company Bolus Consulting, where she continued to work with primary and community services as well as providing mentorship support and coaching for senior nurses.
David felt he had ‘dodged a bullet’ when he recovered from Covid-19 last year after spending time in ICU, and the couple were looking forward to some good years together. But their plans were tragically thwarted.
Julie was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumour that is almost always lethal, in March of this year. She died 15 days later while the family were still reeling from the shock of the diagnosis.
During that time one of her former nursing colleagues was able to co-ordinate a submission for the Chief Nursing Officer for England’s Gold Award, which recognises lifetime ach
ievement in nursing. Sadly, Julie never got to hear of the success of the application because she died just before it was confirmed.
‘She would have been honoured and delighted to be recognised but at the same time annoyed with both me and her friend Nancy for putting her forward for this award’, said David. ‘She would never have seen herself as special, but everyone else saw the gold star diamond she really was.
‘There are not that many nurses from a general practice background who rise to become Directors of Nursing at a national level because there is no clear pathway. And she was working with NAPC to help nurses from primary care work up through the ranks.’
Even in her last days, Julie’s thoughts were of how she could help others, working with her youngest son George to set up a fundraising appeal for local foodbanks. The initial target was £300, but at the time of writing the total raised had already topped £15,000, and David is now working with Locala to decide on the best use of the funds.
‘Julie always cared passionately about community and the inequities in society’, said David. ‘It is appalling that we live in a first world country where there is food poverty and reliance on foodbanks and donations. Feeding children now should be the priority, but going forward I would like to see something more sustainable that enables children to have a healthy start in life.’
The appeal will be a legacy for Julie, along with the memories of husband David, sons Tom, Jack and George, and grandsons Isaac and Ben. However, her lasting professional legacy will be the impact she has had on the people she has worked with over the years – who are quoted at length in this article – and the work she did on their behalf.
David summed it up beautifully. ‘Many people’s careers have been shaped by Julie. She has inspired a number of nurses and nurse leaders to look at the art of the possible, to be true to themselves and enable people to be the best they can be for themselves and their patients.’
‘In Calderdale we are never going to forget her’, added Emma Bownas, ‘and the work we are going to do is a legacy for her.’
‘Julie had a talent for being robust, direct and standing up for what she thought was right while keeping the human touch.’
Matthew Walker, Director of Strategy, NAPC
‘Julie was an exemplar of the power of the nursing voice. Across NAPC we will uphold everything that she stood for.’
Dr Johnny Marshall, President, NAPC
Julie was a truly inspirational person, who always set the bar high at NAPC Board discussions. She was a guiding influence that we greatly miss. We have all been “Julied”.’
Minesh Patel, Chair, NAPC
‘Julie was one of the few people who really listened to what others were saying and I’m going to miss her warmth and integrity. She touched my life for the good.’
Jag Mundra, Population Health Management Lead, NAPC
‘Facilitating workshop sessions with Julie always involved fun and humour. Only Julie could pull off an icebreaker activity where you ask the group to pair up and convince each other why their favourite ice cream flavour is better than the other person’s!’
Julia Sutton McGough, Faculty member, NAPC
‘She was grounded, practical, sensible with a friendly smile and a lovely hint of mischief – an advocate of keeping things simple and doing the right thing. I will miss her wise counsel.’
John Pope, Chief Executive Officer, NAPC
‘She has always been authentic, honest, accessible, caring and – most importantly – a trusted friend and a colleague for whom I have had great respect.’
Dr Nav Chana, Director, NAPC
‘Julie to me was at the heart of the core values of NAPC and this was evident across her roles on the NAPC executive board, national faculty and as a fellow colleague passionate about nursing. I and our whole team miss her greatly.’
Vikki Beddow, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Organisational Development, NAPC
‘When I met Julie, she wore a fabulous red dress that immediately brightened the room. She had a personality to match and brought laughter to many of our board meetings. We supported each other on challenging governance issues and as our relationship grew over the years, her passion for nursing, patient care and abundant kindness shone through. She was an epitome of the ‘lady in red’ – an amazing woman, whom I was privileged to call a friend.’
Karen Robins, Non Executive Director, NAPC
‘I could always have a straight, honest and open conversation with Julie! She was so supportive and would very often ask who was looking after me. I will miss her warmth, her humour and her razor sharp mind.’
Sally Kitt, Chief Operating Officer, NAPC
Julie’s family wanted to focus on making the situation as positive as possible and raise money for local food banks so they could support those most in need. Click here to donate.