COVID-19 Pandemic Increasing Cancer Care Provider Burnout, Led to Care Backlog


The COVID-19 pandemic will be felt in the oncology space long after the pandemic is over, study shows.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to a backlog in oncology care and research, according to a new study presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Virtual Conference 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused more than 962,000 deaths and there has been over 31 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Cancer treatments for many patents were either delayed or cancelled outright as a safety measure.

Additionally, the pandemic has placed an additional burden on an already taxed health care system. Prior to the pandemic, Europe’s cancer burden was estimated to reach 2.7 million new cases and 1.3 million deaths in 2020 by the European Cancer Information System.

The study was made up of survey responses from oncology centers in 18 countries. Overall, 60.9% of the clinics reported that activity was reduced at the peak of the pandemic.

The vast majority, 64.2%, cited under-treatment as a major concern and 37% expected to see a reduction in clinical trials this year, according to the study. Surgeries were the mostly likely treatments to be canceled or delayed, with 44.1% of centers reporting having delayed or canceled surgeries while 25.7% had to delay or cancel chemotherapy and 13.7% had to delay or cancel radiotherapy. Additionally, there was an earlier end to palliative care in 32.1% of centers.

Patient care was also affected dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from 356 cancer centers across 54 countries collected during April 2020, 88% of centers reported facing challenges in providing care during the pandemic. More than half, 54%, reported cases of COVID-19 among their patients and 45% reported cases among their staff.

Most of the centers, 55%, reduced services pre-emptively whereas 20% were forced to do so after being overwhelmed by the situation. According to the study, 19% reported a shortage of personal protective equipment, 18% experienced a staffing shortage, and 9.8% reported a shortage in medicines.

Nearly half, 46%, of centers reported more than 1 in 10 patients missing at least 1 cycle in treatment, with some centers estimating that up to 80% of patients were exposed to some harm. To accommodate patients during the pandemic, 93% implemented virtual tumor boards, which 60% of centers indicated will continue beyond the pandemic.

According to the study, 83.6% of centers adopted virtual clinics, which 55.5% plan to continue after the pandemic. Sixty-eight percent also shipped medication to the patients so that treatment could continue.

“The detrimental impact of COVID-19 on cancer care is widespread, with varying magnitude among centers worldwide. The pandemic has impacted health care systems globally, interrupting care and exposing cancer patients to significant risks of being harmed,” study author Abdul-Rahman Jazieh, MD, said in a press release.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused burnout in many care providers. Sixty-six percent said they were unable to perform their duties as well as they could prior to the pandemic and 38% reported burnout.

In a survey of 1520 participants from 101 countries, wellbeing and job performance fell as national COVID-19 mortality rates rose. Main factors associated with burnout was increased hours, unease over their own wellbeing, and less resilience.


COVID-19 PANDEMIC HALTS CANCER CARE AND DAMAGES ONCOLOGISTS’ WELLBEING [ESMO PRESS RELEASE] September 14, 2020. Lugano, Switzerland. Accessed September 22, 2020.

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