The Dartmouth Pain Clinic is closing, forcing hundreds of people suffering from chronic pain to join the two-year waiting list to see a doctor at the Halifax Pain Clinic, the Nova Scotia Health Authority said Thursday.
"The two physicians who work in the Dartmouth Pain Clinic will not be offering services after Dec. 31, 2017," health authority spokesperson Theresa Hawkesworth said.
The clinic in the Dartmouth General Hospital treats people with chronic pain.
A phone message at the clinic confirmed both doctors are leaving. It says anyone on the Dartmouth waiting list will be transferred to the Halifax clinic's wait-list.
Hawkesworth said "there will be gaps, particularly in relation [to] opioid treatment" as the Dartmouth clinic shuts down.
1,400 people on Halifax waiting list now
Dr. Ian Beauprie is the medical director of the pain clinic at Halifax's Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.
He said the 550 people on the Dartmouth wait-list will join the 850 already waiting for an appointment at the Halifax clinic.
"We're trying not to disadvantage the people on the Dartmouth waiting list. We're trying to triage them based on the date of their original referral," he told CBC News Thursday.
He said the wait for the Halifax clinic had been about ten or 11 months, but would rise to 18 months to two years when it absorbs the Dartmouth list.
Beauprie said there are pain clinics across the province, including at the Hants Community Hospital, in Sydney and in Truro. Ideally, people would wait no more than six months for a first appointment, he said.
"We're going to be busier than we were before," he said.
"I don't think we will be able to solve the opioid crisis without being able to solve the chronic pain crisis."
'No plans' to replace physicians
Claudia Chender, MLA for Dartmouth South, said a constituent alerted her to the problem recently. The person had waited a year to see someone at the Dartmouth clinic, got a couple of appointments, and then learned the clinic would have no doctors by the end of the year.
"That was confirmed to me, that there is one doctor moving out of the Dartmouth General and into private practice in the community, another who is retiring and, as far as I know, there are no plans to replace those physicians," Chender said Thursday.
She said Dartmouth residents already struggle to access primary care and that another family doctor retired this month, leaving some 4,500 people without a doctor.
Chender said losing the pain clinic could make it harder to recruit family physicians to the area, as family doctors often rely on specialists like those at the pain clinic to deal with complex cases.
Tough choices for pain patients
She said the two-year wait-list in Halifax showed it was a "crisis situation" in many parts of the health system.
"For … these patients who live with really extreme chronic pain, what are the alternatives? If they can't find a prescribing doctor and they can't get a referral, the alternatives for that are very scary," she said.
"You might end up with folks on the street where we know we have things like fentanyl and other illicit opioids."
Nobody CBC spoke to knew how many patients are being treated at the Dartmouth clinic.