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Belfast City Hospital is Awarded New Grant by Charity to Tackle Unfairness in Healthcare for Women

31st March 2022


Belfast City Hospital is Awarded New Grant by Charity to Tackle Unfairness in Healthcare for Women

Today, women’s health charity Ovarian Cancer Action, in partnership with Belfast City Hospital and five other NHS Cancer Centres, launches IMPROVE UK – an innovative nationwide project that aims to significantly reduce the unfairness women currently face in healthcare and the disproportionately low survival rates of women with ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Action’s IMPROVE UK project is the first of its kind and is designed to significantly improve survival rates by ensuring that no matter where a woman lives in the UK, or her ethnicity, she can get the ovarian cancer diagnosis, treatment and care she needs.

In this first phase of IMPROVE UK, Ovarian Cancer Action has awarded one of six grants to Belfast City Hospital. The funding comes from a £1 million investment the charity secured from the UK Government Tampon Tax Fund.

Belfast City Hospital is proudly working to improve the outcome for women with ovarian cancer in Northern Ireland by helping more elderly and frail patients, who may not be considered fit enough for treatment, to receive life extending surgery and chemotherapy.

Treatment for cancer is tough on the body and currently some women may not have access to these treatments as their bodies are not prepared. This creates a massive disadvantage for this group of women, which this project wants to reduce.

The team will set up a dedicated central clinic to assess frailty in patients with advanced ovarian cancer in Northern Ireland to help improve patient fitness before they undergo surgery and chemotherapy. This means treatment is more accessible, improving the chance of survival for this group of women.

Belfast City Hospital is the regional gynaecological cancer centre for Northern Ireland, serving a population of 1.8 million, so the potential to help women in this area is huge.

The project will bring together a total of six NHS Cancer Centres across the UK to improve knowledge, best-practice, and data sharing. The pilots target a wide range of issues in the current system, in a bid to improve the access to high quality care for more women. These include:

  • Introducing pre-habilitation services for women, to ensure more can access lifesaving surgery – reducing the gap in survival rates
  • Improving the uptake of genetic testing, especially in BAME communities
  • Reducing delays from diagnosis to starting treatment

Following the pilots, learnings will be shared from Belfast City Hospital with other cancer centres across the UK to help drive wider changes and improved health services for women.

Cary Wakefield, CEO of Ovarian Cancer Action, says: “Women have been living with the inequality gap in care and treatment for too long and now is the time for action and change. We welcome the determination of the team in Belfast City Hospital to find solutions.”

Dr Stephen Dobbs, Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist in Belfast Trust said: “The Gynaecological Oncology team are grateful to Ovarian Cancer Action for a grant enabling us to initiate a pre-habilitation service for woman in Northern Ireland. Our aim is to improve the physical, nutritional and emotional state of our patients prior to surgery and chemotherapy with the hope that this will improve their journey through cancer care.”

The IMPROVE UK project is also designed in response to previous work funded by Ovarian Cancer Action[i] which revealed the unacceptable disparities in survival rates for different women:

  • 5-year survival rates range from 29% to 50% across different regions
  • Women over the age of 70 are less likely to receive any treatment compared to younger women
  • Less uptake of important genetic testing in patients from BAME groups.

The launch of IMPROVE UK is supported by the British Gynaecological Cancer Society (BGCS), the ovarian cancer patient support charity Ovacome and a dedicated Patient Advisory Group.

Visit the Ovarian Cancer Action website to find out more about Belfast City Hospital’s work and further detail on the IMPROVE UK website here.

[i] Ovarian Cancer Audit Feasibility Pilot, 2020