The funds are in place and the work can begin! Thanks to a generous subsidy recently received from ZonMw (Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development) on top of subsidies already granted by the Porticus Foundation and PIN/KNR (Dutch branch of the Conference of Religious), Prof. Hetty Zock and Dr Anja Visser-Nieraeth can now set to work on their research project entitled ‘Spiritual care close to home: the integration of spiritual care into the Dutch primary care system’. The timing of the project is striking: the MinVWS (Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport) has just announced plans to set aside an annual budget of 7 million euros for spiritual care in the home setting. The project will result in recommendations and tools that will help embed spiritual care securely into the care chain. ZonMw works on behalf of the MinVWS and the NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research).
Spiritual care and the search for meaning are hot topics. In both somatic and mental healthcare circles, the view is gaining momentum that spiritual factors as well as biological, psychological and social factors play an important role in determining people’s health and wellbeing. The healthcare system in the Netherlands appears to be embracing the social and academic relevance of including spiritual care in the broader care package. At the same time, patients (especially the elderly and those requiring palliative care) are increasingly being offered extramural care, i.e. care provided outside hospitals or other care institutions. Prof. Hetty Zock, professor by special appointment of Religion and Mental Health, in particular in the area of Spiritual Care, and Dr Anja Visser-Nieraeth, lecturer in Spiritual Care, both working at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, will be investigating how best to embed spiritual care into the Dutch extramural care system with the help of spiritual care professionals.
Anja Visser explains: ‘As of 1 January 2019, the MinVWS will be allocating an annual budget of 7 million euros to home-based spiritual care, with the undertaking that 5 million euros will be made available on a structural basis from 2021 onwards. This will undoubtedly give rise to many new initiatives in the sector, but how can we ensure that what is set up will persist? Systematic research will enable us to develop recommendations and tools that can be used to anchor spiritual care into the care chain.’ Hetty Zock elaborates: ‘More and more care is being provided in the home. Take, for example, the elderly, people with dementia and the terminally ill (palliative care). Whereas in intramural care settings spiritual care professionals are on hand to offer support, people being cared for at home have nowhere to go with their meaning-realted questions (“how do I cope?”, “where do I find the strength I need?”). These days, the number of people with strong ties to a church or other ideological group they can turn to for help is dwindling. The need is particularly acute in the area of palliative care. Since this is also the area in which spiritual care has received the most attention to date, it makes sense to start our research there.’
Anja Visser again: ‘With the help of two research assistants, we will be investigating how spiritual care professionals currently structure their extramural and primary care work, including palliative care, in the hope of unearthing best practices: which combination of success factors contributes to the integration of spiritual care in this care setting? In consultation with stakeholders, we then aim to use our findings to develop instruments that can support spiritual care professionals and other carers in structuring their organisation.’
(Research into Primary Palliative Spiritual Care) is a research programme under which different universities are working together to improve the integration of primary spiritual care. Alongside the UG, the University of Humanistic Studies and the Tilburg School of Catholic Theology have also been granted ZonMw subsidies under the PLOEG programme. Hetty Zock is pleased. ‘I’m glad we can now get started on our research, together with the other PLOEG project teams. Research into primary spiritual care is sorely needed.’ Anja Visser agrees. ‘It’s fantastic to see so many organizations recognizing and acknowledging the vital role of primary spiritual care in people’s health and wellbeing and being willing to contribute. We can’t wait to get started.’
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