BACKGROUND: Spiritual care is an important aspect of palliative care. In the Netherlands, general practitioners and district nurses play a leading role in palliative care in the primary care setting. When they are unable to provide adequate spiritual care to their patient, they can refer to spiritual caregivers. This study aimed to provide an overview of the practice of spiritual caregivers in the primary care setting, and to investigate, from their own perspective, the reasons why spiritual caregivers are infrequently involved in palliative care and what is needed to improve this.
METHOD: Sequential mixed methods consisting of an online questionnaire with structured and open questions completed by 31 spiritual caregivers, followed by an online focus group with 9 spiritual caregivers, analysed through open coding.
RESULTS: Spiritual caregivers provide care for existential, relational and religious issues, and the emotions related to these issues. Aspects of spiritual care in practice include helping patients find meaning, acceptance or reconciliation, paying attention to the spiritual issues of relatives of the patient, and helping them all to say farewell. Besides spiritual issues, spiritual caregivers also discuss topics related to medical care with patients and relatives, such as treatment wishes and options. Spiritual caregivers also mentioned barriers and facilitators for the provision of spiritual care, such as communication with other healthcare providers, having a relationship of trust and structural funding.. In the online focus group, local multidisciplinary meetings were suggested as ideal opportunities to familiarize other healthcare providers with spirituality and promote spiritual caregivers' services. Also, structural funding for spiritual caregivers in the primary care setting should be organized.
CONCLUSION: Spiritual caregivers provide broad spiritual care at the end of life, and discuss many different topics beside spiritual issues with patients in the palliative phase, supporting them when making medical end-of-life decisions. Spiritual care in the primary care setting may be improved by better cooperation between spiritual caregiver and other healthcare providers, through improved education in spiritual care and better promotion of spiritual caregivers' services.