Ovarian cancer and COVID-19 (coronavirus): advice for patients in England

BRCA gene mutations

Page updated 1st April 2021

National lockdown 2021: Information for ovarian cancer patients in England who are currently receiving treatment

From 1st April, clinically extremely vulnerable people in England are being advised that they no longer need to shield. National shielding has been paused as the levels of the virus have fallen significantly since January 2021, reducing the risk of catching the virus for everyone. If you're on the patient shielding list, you're still advised to work from home where possible, keep social contact to a minimum, and maintain strict social distancing. You will have been sent a letter with the updated guidance and the steps you can take to stay safe. 

This will be incredibly welcome news for the many cancer patients who have been shielding on and off for the past year, due to a higher risk of serious illness from Covid-19. We understand the lift in restrictions may also cause some mixed emotions or worry. If you have any questions or concerns, please email us on info@ovarian.org.uk. You can read more about the changes to shielding in our FAQs below. 

More people are added to the patient shielding list 

In February, the government added 1.7 million people to the patient shielding list in England. This was following the the use a new risk-assessment tool called QCovid, that's been developed to help doctors identify groups of clinically vulnerable people. If you have been recently identified as needing to shield, you will be sent a letter from the NHS letting you know your vulnerable status and the guidance you should follow to stay safe. Please read more in our FAQs below. 

The UK has approved three Covid-19 vaccines 

Two safe and effective coronavirus vaccines (developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca) are now available in the UK, and a third (developed by Moderna) was approved in January. The NHS has started the phased roll out the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines, and around 8 million people have received their first dose. The vaccine is free and will be available to everyone who will benefit, starting with those most at risk. Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people - including ovarian cancer patients - are in the fourth priority group to get the vaccine. 

The Government has said that it aims for everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable to have been vaccinated by mid-February. Click here to read our Covid-19 vaccine FAQs. 

FAQs for patients in England 

Am I 'clinically extremely vulnerable'?

The Government provides tailored guidance to help protect people identified as clinically extremely vulnerable during the pandemic, as their specific medical condition or treatment places them at risk of serious illness if they caught coronavirus. 

You will receive a letter from the Government if you are considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable. You may also receive an email if the NHS has your contact details. These letters may take a few days to arrive but you should receive a letter by mid-January.

You are likely to be considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable if you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and you are currently having: 

  • chemotherapy, or have had chemotherapy in the last three months.
  • targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system - such as a PARP inhibitor (Olaparib, Niraparib, and Rucaparib).
  • immunotherapy or any treatment that affects the immune system.

In February, the government added 1.7 million people to the patient shielding list in England. This was following the the use a new risk-assessment tool that's been developed to help doctors identify groups of clinically vulnerable people. The tool (called QCOVID) takes into account someone's ethnicity, weight, age, and if they live in a deprived area to work out if they are more likely to become seriously ill from Covid. It also considers underlying health conditions, such as:

  • Lung or oral cancer
  • Blood and bone marrow cancers
  • Solid organ transplant 
  • If someone has had chemotherapy in the last 12 months
  • If someone has been prescribed oral prednisolone by a clinician four or more times in the last six months 
  • If someone has been prescribed immunosuppressants by a clinician four or more times in the last six months

You can find out more about the risk-assessment tool here.

Anyone who has been added to the patient shielding list will be prioritised for vaccination and receive guidance on staying well during the pandemic. The NHS will send a letter to all those recognised as at-risk with more information on the support that’s available. 

Your clinician or GP may also add you to the Shielded Patient List if, in their clinical judgement, you are at higher risk of serious illness if you catch the virus. If you're not currently on the Shielded Patient List but think there are reasons why you should be added, it's best to discuss your concerns with your GP or hospital clinician.

If you have had ovarian cancer in the past and made a full recovery, you are unlikely to be considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable'. You should still follow the Government guidance on social distancing to stay safe, but you are not at any more risk than the general public.

If you do not receive a letter from the Government then you are not considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable.

What does the guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people say?

From 1st April, clinically extremely vulnerable in England will no longer need to shield as there has been a significant drop in the number of coronavirus cases and there's a much lower risk of catching the virus. Clinically extremely vulnerable people must still continue to follow the national rules in place for everyone. 

If you're on the Shielded Patient List, you will receive a letter explaining the updated guidance, what support is available to you, and the extra steps you can take to keep yourself safe and well. These include: 

  • continue to maintain social distancing when indoors and outdoors. However, you do not need to socially distance from members of your household or support bubble
  • when people from different households are allowed to meet indoors, keep the area well ventilated (for example, by opening a window)
  • minimise the number of social interactions 
  • work from home where possible. If you're unable to do so, employers are required by law to take steps to make workplaces COVID-19 secure and should discuss this with their employees The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidance on protecting vulnerable workers
  • maintain strict social distancing indoors and outdoors
  • consider travelling outside peak hours where possible to reduce the number of people you come into contact with 
The NHS is also encouraging everyone to have their Covid-19 vaccination when offered. An effective vaccine is the best way to protect people from coronavirus. If you have not yet received your first dose, please contact your GP. If you have received your first dose, you should still ensure you take up your second dose of the vaccine when it is offered to you. Having two doses should further increase your level of protection.

You can find the latest guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people in full on the government website.

Is there still a shielded patients list?

The shielded patient list is still in use. If you have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable, you will have received a letter from your GP, hospital or (if identified nationally) from the NHS. More information about the shielded patient list can be found here.

I've been diagnosed with ovarian cancer since March 2020 - will I still be included on the shielded patients list?

Yes. The national list of people who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable is updated weekly.  So even if you were not included in the shielding list in the first lockdown, you will be included in this lockdown.

Where can I get a copy of the latest letter for clinically vulnerable people?

If you are on the Shielding Patients List you should have received a letter from the government with the latest guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people. You can find an electronic copy of the letter, as well as easy read and large print versions, on the government website

If you would like to order a copy of the latest letter and guidance in audio, braille, or large print, please contact Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) at helpline@RNIB.org.uk or call 0303 123 9999. 

The letter to clinically extremely vulnerable people (dated 17 March) is available in the following languages:

Is the latest letter for clinically extremely vulnerable people available in other languages?

Yes. The latest letter is available from GOV.UK in Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Gujarati, Hindi, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi and Urdu. 

I haven't received a government letter, but I think I am clinically extremely vulnerable - what can I do?

If you think you should be considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable' but haven't received a new letter from the Government, you should speak to your GP or your cancer team. They are able to add you to this list if they agree you should be considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable'.

Where can I get support?

Support getting food and medicines delivered

If you already registered for priority access to supermarket delivery slots by 31st March, then the participating supermarkets will continue to offer priority access until 21st June. After this date you can continue to book deliveries from a supermarket.

You might still want to ask friends, family or volunteers to collect medicines for you. The NHS Volunteer Responders programme is still available to help support those who need it. Volunteers can collect and deliver shopping, medication and other essential supplies. Call 0808 196 3646 between 8am and 8pm, 7 days a week to self-refer or visit NHS Volunteer Responders for further information. There may also be other voluntary or community services in your local area that you can access for support.

NHS services

You should continue to seek support from the NHS for your existing health conditions. You can access a range of NHS services from home, including ordering repeat prescriptions or contacting your health professional through an online consultation. To find out more visit the NHS website or download the NHS App. If you have an urgent medical need, call NHS 111 or, for a medical emergency, dial 999.

Everyday bills 

Energy suppliers are required by the regulator, Ofgem, to hold a register of customers in a vulnerable circumstance, called a Priority Service Register. If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you can be added to this register. For information about how to be added to the register and the additional services your supplier can provide you, please visit Ofgem’s website.

Telecom providers are also required by their regulator, Ofcom, to support their vulnerable customers. For information about the additional services your supplier may be able to provide you as a vulnerable customer, please visit Ofcom’s website.

Support to work

If you need support to work at home or in the workplace you can apply for Access to Work which provides support for people with a disability or health condition.  

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) has been extended until 30th September. You may continue to be eligible throughout this period, even when shielding is paused, providing your employer agrees. The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) has also been extended until 30th September.

From 1st April you will no longer be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) on the basis of being advised to shield, given the lifting of shielding measures nationally. You may be eligible SSP or ESA if you are sick or incapable of work, either due to coronavirus or other health reasons, subject to meeting the eligibility conditions.

If you have concerns about your health and safety at work then you can:

  • raise them with your workplace union, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or your local authority -who will take action where employers are not managing the risk of Covid-19
  • get in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau, who can give you information about your rights at work
  • contact Acas who can help you with a workplace problem. Visit the Acas website or call the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm)

Support for women with ovarian cancer 

We are continuing to inform and update anyone diagnosed with ovarian cancer about the latest guidance during the pandemic. 

You can sign up to receive our monthly patient e-newsletter for tips on navigating the lockdown, as well as updates on the Government guidance at the bottom of the page. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see from us, tell us on info@ovarian.org.uk

Ovacome's support line is now open extended hours, and you can call them for free on 0800 008 7054.

Where can I find mental health support?

We understand that it is normal to feel anxious or go through feelings of depression at this time. There are a number of organisations and services who are there to help support your mental health and wellbeing. If you’re feeling anxious or low, visit Every Mind Matters or GOV.UK for advice and support. 

The Let’s Talk Loneliness website also has a variety of tips, advice and further resources that you may find helpful.

Ovacome's support line is now open extended hours, and you can call them for free on 0800 008 7054

If you feel like you are still struggling to cope, you can also speak to your GP. 

What about my treatment? Will it be safe to go into hospital?

The NHS is working hard to diagnose,  treat and care for people with cancer, and ensure that these services return to operating as they did before the pandemic. 

Changes are being made to the way services are delivered to keep patients and staff safe. For example:

  • COVID-protected hubs have been established across the country to ensure that cancer treatment continues.  The hubs support hospitals across the NHS and independent sector to work together to maximise capacity and ensure that people receive the treatment that they need.  Some patients may start to see their treatment move to a different hospital as these hubs are set up.  You will remain under the care of your treating hospital and clinical specialist team and should contact them with any questions about your treatment and care.
  • Most hospitals are now using more telephone or internet consultations to avoid unnecessary trips to the hospital. You may be called to arrange your treatments in this way, and planned treatments may need to be moved to help with running a smooth service. You can read a helpful guide put together by Ovacome about how to prepare for these appointments here.
  • Some patients may have their chemotherapy at home or have fewer radiotherapy appointments, to reduce visits to hospital while continuing with their treatment.  
  • For some people, it may be safer to delay surgery. Your doctor may suggest a different treatment in the meantime, such as chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. 
Wider measures are also being taken by all hospitals that are treating COVID patients to ensure that COVID and non-COVID patients are kept separate. For example, there may be separate entrances for COVID and non-COVID patients, all patients admitted to hospital as an emergency will be tested for COVID, and patients going into hospital for surgery or another elective procedure will be asked to isolate for 14 days and be offered a COVID test wherever possible.

If you have an urgent medical question relating to your ovarian cancer please contact your specialist hospital care team, directly. Where possible, you will be supported by phone or online. If your clinician decides you need to be seen in person, the NHS will contact you to arrange a visit in your home, or where necessary, treatment in hospital.

For more guidance, information and sources of support please visit the British Gynaecological Cancer Society's patient information page on their website.

Will there be any problems accessing my cancer drugs?

The government is helping pharmacies to deliver prescriptions which will continue to cover the same length of time as usual. If you do not currently have your prescriptions collected or delivered, you can arrange this by:

1. Asking someone who can pick up your prescription from the local pharmacy, (this is the best option, if possible);

2. Contacting your pharmacy to ask them to help you find a volunteer (who will have been ID checked) or deliver it to you.

You may also need to arrange for collection or delivery of hospital specialist medication that is prescribed to you by your hospital care team.There are currently no medicine shortages as a result of COVID-19. The country is well prepared to deal with any impacts of the Coronavirus and we have stockpiles of generic drugs like paracetamol in the event of any supply issues.

The Department of Health and Social Care is working closely with industry, the NHS and others in the supply chain to ensure patients can access the medicines they need and precautions are in place to prevent future shortages.

There is no need for patients to change the way they order prescriptions or take their medicines. Patients should always follow the advice of doctors, pharmacists or other prescribers who prescribe and dispense their medicines and medical products. The NHS has tried-and-tested ways of making sure patients receive their medicines and medical products, even under difficult circumstances. If patients order extra prescriptions, or stockpile, it will put pressure on stocks, meaning that some patients may not get the medicines or medical products they need.

What is happening with clinical trials?

80% of clinical trials have now reopened, and we hope they will stay open during this new lockdown. You should contact your clinical team with questions about your individual treatment including any trials you are part of. We will update this section as soon as we know more.

What do I do if I have COVID-19 symptoms?

If you are experiencing symptoms of any infection or illness, including Coronavirus, you should:

  • arrange to have a test 
  • contact your cancer team know as you would normally.  You can do this as well as using the NHS 111 online Coronavirus service. If you do not have access to the internet, call NHS 111. Make sure you mention that you are an ovarian cancer patient who has been considered to be at risk. Do this as soon as you get symptoms.

If you fall ill from COVID-19, or any other condition, and require treatment in hospital, you will still be treated as normal and will absolutely not be denied any medical intervention because you are clinically extremely vulnerable.

What should I do if I'm experiencing ovarian cancer symptoms?

The following advice is from the British Gynaecological Cancer Society.

Some existing cancer patients have open access to their gynae-oncology service, normally via the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). If you have already had a gynaecological cancer diagnosis and have symptoms concerning for recurrence (such as persistent bloating and stomach pain), please get in touch with your CNS via their usual contact details. Please be aware that many staff have been re-deployed to look after acutely unwell patients, so there may be a delay, or a CNS from another cancer team may be covering the gynaecological cancer team.  Please be understanding with us if this is the case. We will try our very hardest to look after you and get back to you as quickly as we can.

Sometimes you may be referred to another hospital in your area, if your normal hospital is very busy. We have been working together to help get you seen and treated as soon as we can. We are all one big NHS team, now more so than ever. Please bear with us and be understanding, if this is the case.

Could the guidance change again?

Yes - the guidance is regularly updated based on the latest data available and can be changed by the government.

We'll be regularly updating this page, so you'll always find the latest guidance here.

Where can I find out more about the Covid-19 vaccine?

Do you have another question?

If you have a question that hasn’t been answered, please email us at info@ovarian.org.uk - we may not know the answer straight away, but we will do our best to find out.

Government guidance is regularly being updated. Sign up here to be kept up to date with the latest government advice, information and advice from experts, and tips on your wellbeing during this uncertain time.