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January update: What’s happening with ovarian cancer treatment?

22 January 2021

Female doctor

It’s become clear this month that the new coronavirus strains are putting huge amounts of pressure on the NHS and its cancer services, with London and the East of England hospitals currently being the most seriously affected. The high number of coronavirus patients needing hospital treatment means that some hospitals have had to delay other treatments, including cancer surgery.

We understand that this will be a stressful and uncertain time for those of you who are being treated for ovarian cancer, or caring for a loved one with a diagnosis. Please know that cancer care remains an absolute priority for the NHS. We've outlined what’s happening in hospitals right now, how the NHS is taking steps to protect you and continue cancer services safely, what you should expect if your treatment is delayed, and how we can help you through the weeks ahead. 

What's going on?

We’re now at the most critical point for Covid-19 cases. There is still a high number of infections across the country, and hospitals are struggling to cope with the high number of patients who are currently critically ill with Covid-19.

This has meant that some hospitals, particularly in London and the East of England, have had to pause cancer surgeries, which means delaying some patients’ surgery for ovarian cancer. At the time of writing, there has been less disruption to cancer surgery in other parts of the country, and chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments are largely unaffected at the moment. Please do get in touch with us at Info@ovarian.org.uk if you want to tell us how your care or treatment has been affected.

Why is this happening?

Ovarian cancer surgery unfortunately requires many of the same resources as Covid-19 treatment. Intensive Care Units (ICUs) are full in many hospitals, and some have converted other parts of the hospital (including operating theatres) into overflow ICUs. Anaesthetists and nurses that are crucial for cancer surgery are being redeployed to help with the overwhelming number of critically ill Covid-19 patients.

What is being done to ensure ovarian cancer patients get their treatment?

It’s important to know that cancer services remain an absolute priority for the NHS. NHS staff are making every effort to continue cancer treatment safely and, where rescheduling cancer treatment is unavoidable, to give patients a new date for their appointment as soon as possible. 

In London and the East of England, NHS England is reinforcing the message to hospitals that Covid-19 patients and cancer patients must be prioritised equally. 

NHS England leaders have asked NHS colleagues to re-establish cancer hubs, which were set up at the start of the pandemic, where patients can be treated in a Covid-protected sites  NHS England is also extending agreements that were put in place at the beginning of the pandemic to use private healthcare clinic space and staff to ensure surgery can restart. At least one London NHS Trust has already restarted ovarian cancer surgery in this way, and we expect more announced in the coming days.

There is regular testing of NHS staff (including those who are not showing any symptoms) and patients to help keep everybody safe and cancer services running.

Finally, NHS England is also closely monitoring the situation around the country so they can help the hospitals hit hardest by Covid-19, and triage their cancer patients so they can be treated in other, Covid-free areas.

What should you expect if your treatment has been delayed?

You may have your treatment plan adjusted to receive another round of chemotherapy before your surgery, but only if your oncology team believes this won’t negatively affect your treatment. You may also have your surgery moved to a different hospital than you are normally treated.

If your treatment has been delayed, you should expect a new date for your rescheduled treatment. If you don’t get a new date within a few weeks, you should keep in regular contact with your oncology team until they are able to give you a new date. You should not have been told that your treatment has been cancelled indefinitely. If this has happened you can email us at Info@ovarian.org.uk if you have not been given a new appointment date within a few days and we will inform NHS England.

Is it still safe to have treatment at the moment?

Yes, if you have an appointment for treatment you should attend, as receiving your cancer treatment is crucial. If you are worried, do talk about any concerns with your oncology team. They will be doing everything they can to ensure your stay safe during your treatment.

Where can I get support?

Our friends at Ovacome, the national UK ovarian cancer support charity, provide support and information to everyone affected by ovarian cancer. The Ovacome Support Line is available Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm. Call 0800 008 7054 for information and emotional support on all aspects of ovarian cancer.

We’d like to hear from you

If your treatment has been delayed or affected we’d like to hear from you. The situation is changing in the NHS every day. Your stories give us a better picture of what is really happening for patients right now. Email us at Info@ovarian.org.uk.

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