Doctors at Nova Scotia's largest pain clinic say they can no longer accept routine referrals because they're too busy.

In a letter to physicians across the province, the five chronic-pain specialists at the QEII Health Sciences Centre say there's a backlog of more than 1,400 patients at the clinic.

"We're simply overwhelmed. We have an enormous wait list of patients that, try as hard as we can, we can't get to see in a timely manner," said Dr. Ian Beauprie, an anesthesia specialist at the pain clinic.

Beauprie said the doctors still see urgent referrals for patients with cancer and those with acute sciatica and other conditions, "but the poor fellow with the bad back or failed back surgery, he's waiting on the forever list now."

Part of letter to doctors:
"Our triage process places top priority on potentially reversible pain conditions ... and cancer pain requiring spinal or nerve block approaches. Thus at this time we are not able to get to the regular referrals on our list and unless your patient falls into the category noted above it is unlikely that we will be able to book them for an appointment"

- Dr. Mary Lynch, interim director, pain management unit

With the current backlog, Beauprie said a new patient with a non-urgent problem would have to wait five years before being seen at the clinic.

Beauprie is a member of Action Atlantic, a new group made up of doctors and patients suffering from chronic pain. The group surveyed doctors and clinics that provide pain treatment and found at least 5,000 people are waiting to see a specialist.

"The average waiting time per province is staggering: nine months in Newfoundland, 16 months in New Brunswick, 22 months in Nova Scotia, and two years in Prince Edward Island," said Helen Tupper, a chronic-pain sufferer and member of the group.

Action Atlantic is funded by the drug company Pfizer, which makes pain medication.