UK Head and neck cancer surgical capacity during the second wave of the COVID—19 pandemic: have we learned the lessons? COVIDSurg collaborative

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • COVIDSurg Collaborative

External organisations

  • University of Liverpool
  • Liverpool Head & Neck Centre


Objectives: The aim of this study was to evaluate the differences in surgical capacity for head and neck cancer in the UK between the first wave (March-June 2020) and the current wave (Jan-Feb 2021) of the COVID-19 pandemic. Design: REDcap online-based survey of hospital capacity. Setting: UK secondary and tertiary hospitals providing head and neck cancer surgery. Participants: One representative per hospital was asked to report the capacity for head and neck cancer surgery in that institution. Main outcome measures: The principal measures of interests were new patient referrals, capacity in outpatients, theatres and critical care; therapeutic compromises constituting delay to surgery, de-escalated surgery and therapeutic migration to non-surgical primary modality. Results: Data were returned from approximately 95% of UK hospitals with a head and neck cancer surgery specialist service. 50% of UK head and neck cancer patients requiring surgery have significantly compromised treatments during the second wave: 28% delayed, 10% have received radiotherapy-based treatment instead of surgery, and 12% have received de-escalated surgery. Surgical capacity has been more severely constrained in the second wave (58% of pre-pandemic level) compared with the first wave (62%) despite the time to prepare. Conclusions: Some hospitals are overwhelmed by COVID-19 and unable to offer essential cancer surgery, but all have neighbouring hospitals in their region retaining good (or even normal) capacity. It is noteworthy that very few patients have been appropriately redirected away from the hospitals most constrained by their burden of COVID-19. The paucity of an effective central or regional strategic response to this evident mismatch between demand and surgical capacity is to the detriment of our head and neck cancer patients.

Bibliographic note

Funding Information: This report was funded by The British Association of Head & Neck Oncologists (BAHNO). Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Authors. Clinical Otolaryngology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Otolaryngology
Early online date4 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Mar 2021


  • capacity, COVID-19, critical care, delay, head and neck cancer, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

Sustainable Development Goals