At Work: Partnerships - Collaborators - Non-profits working together - Caring across the disease divide

Mathew Little

A major new project will see Marie Curie cancer nurses tending to heart patients.

For some years, the Marie Curie hospice in Bradford has had a special relationship with the British Heart Foundation, which sent local heart patients along once a week for palliative care. This once informal arrangement has now crystallised into the first major collaboration between the two health charities.

Under the Better Together initiative, Marie Curie nurses are to provide home care for chronic heart failure patients referred to them by the BHF.

If the two 12-month pilots are successful, the initiative could be rolled out nationwide.

The project, an example of the kind of public service joint working espoused by ministers, has attracted funding from the Department of Health and from local primary care trusts in Poole and Bradford. The two charities are covering administration costs out of their own income. Specialist Marie Curie nurses provide the hands-on care, while BHF nurses retain case management duties.

Marie Curie's objectives permit the charity to care for patients with life-threatening illnesses other than cancer - 10 per cent of its beneficiaries can be non-cancer sufferers. According to Eva Morrison, public affairs officer at the charity, the collaboration does not signal a major shift in the charities' activities.

"We are not about to change and become the Marie Curie Heart Foundation," she says. "It's just a way of working with other charities and expanding our expertise into other areas."

Jackie Lodge, head of cardiac care at the BHF, says the partnership presented significant challenges because of the cultural differences between the two organisations. "Everything about us is different," she says. "Marie Curie employs its own nurses, whereas we fund ours and they are actually employed by the NHS."

Lodge says communication has been crucial to ensuring the relationship has worked. In preparation, nurses from both charities attended a three-day training course so each could learn about the other's expertise. "Because we are such different organisations, we have to work hard," adds Lodge.

"We make investments of time and effort to understand each other - this involves everything from press to fundraising."

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