UK hospital ward

20 February 2023

A recent study undertaken by researchers from Queen Mary University of London, Imperial College and Birmingham University, and peer-reviewed by clinicians from the British Gynaecological Cancer Society (BGCS) has revealed the impact of three successive Covid-19 waves on the provision of gynaecological cancer services in the UK. 

The research was funded by the BGCS and supported by a coalition of charities, including Ovacome. 

The study surveyed staff in UK cancer hospitals in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Key findings showed that:

  • During the first Covid wave, half of all hospitals reported staff shortages; however workloads were also reduced as the pandemic impacted the number of cancer diagnosis referrals and operations were postponed.
  • During the second wave, the number of urgent referrals returned to pre-pandemic levels, with surgical capacity also recovering. Fewer hospitals reported staffing reductions during this time.
  • However, by the third Covid wave staff shortages were similar to the first wave in 2020, despite workloads having returned to pre-pandemic levels.

This means that NHS hospitals are now experiencing persistent staff shortages in the face of unmanageable workloads. Staff across gynae cancer care are experiencing high levels of stress and burnout.

Low staffing levels are a major risk to patient outcomes, so it’s critical that this problem is addressed without delay.

“This is of great concern as the BGCS have already highlighted concerns regarding a reduction in trainees and a shortfall in new/replacement gynaecological oncology posts”, says Stephen Dobbs, President of the BGCS and co-author of the study.

“The BGCS urges the commissioners to increase staff recruitment of all members of the gynaecological oncology multi-disciplinary team (MDT) to enable safe and effective treatment of women with gynaecological cancers.”

Victoria Clare, Ovacome’s CEO, says, As the UK’s ovarian cancer support charity we support anyone affected by the disease. This includes the clinicians who are treating patients. We know that many healthcare professionals are working beyond all reasonable expectations.  We hear regularly about the impact of staff shortages in the NHS on patients. We would urge that commissioners and the NHS take this research seriously and better resource services for those diagnosed with gynaecological cancers, because the ongoing situation is unsustainable for clinicians and will continue to have a negative impact on patients.”

Service providers must urgently consider increasing staffing to allow for recovery and resilience in gynae cancer service provision. There needs to be a focus on retaining a highly trained workforce, who are currently facing immense levels of stress and burnout. High quality training with strong pastoral support must be prioritised in gynaecological oncology services in order to meet these ongoing challenges.

Ovacome is the UK’s national ovarian cancer support charity. We provide emotional support and personalised information to anyone affected by the disease, including health professionals. Our support service is available to all clinicians and allied health professionals and is completely confidential. Call Freephone 0800 008 7054 or use the instant chat on our website (Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm).

If you feel that staff shortages have impacted your care and would like to share your experience in order to help drive change, please get in touch on 0207 299 6654 or at [email protected] .


About the study

Impact of Multiple COVID-19 Waves on Gynaecological Cancer Services in the UK. Cancers 202315, 1273.

By Samuel Oxley, Ashwin Kalra, Michail Sideris, Nicole Itzkowitz, Olivia Evans, Emma Christine Atakpa, Adam R. Brentnall, Nina Dworschak, Faiza Gaba, Rhian Gabe, Sudha Sundar, Nick Wood, Shibani Nicum, Alexandra Taylor, Stephen Dobbs, W. Glenn McCluggage, Andy Nordin, Rosa Legood, Sean Kehoe, Sadaf Ghaem-Maghami, and Ranjit Manchanda.