Two operating rooms are being shut down temporarily at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The MUHC said it has no choice, blaming a nursing shortage on the closure.

Surgeons at the hospital now have only eight ORs at their disposal instead of 10, they say due to a high number of absences among nurses and some due to pregnancies.

“The OR is a very specific milieu, so the environment is a physical milieu. You stand all day, so as soon as they learn that they're pregnant, they have to be removed,” explained the MUHC Director of Nursing, Andreanne Saucier.

A plan is now in place to try and prevent a backlog of surgeries.

The plan includes actively trying to recruit new nurses. There have been some hires already, but Saucier said it takes three months to train an OR nurse for that highly specialized environment and so it will take time to get them up to speed.

The MUHC has also reviewed the surgical schedule.

“We used to keep some time that we call flex time that was giving you room to manoeuvre but right now we basically moved on to schedule everything, so really, the schedule is full, giving us a little less room for emergency or for patients that get sicker,” said Saucier.

MUHC nurses’ union president Denyse Joseph said she is not surprised by the news.

“There are also nurses that are leaving the OR because they were hired on a position that was two days a week, which we have no choice by our contract, but they were promised to have more hours than just two days a week. And now with the budget cuts, they have to cut all the replacement and extra hours, so they go elsewhere,” she said.

The MUHC acknowledges it's is difficult to find a balance.

“You want to be proactive and have a little bit more and they don't have enough work hours and, you know, this is really a puzzle,” said Saucier.

The hospital maintains that it will continue to offer optimal access to surgery and patient safety.

They hope to be able to reopen the two operating rooms by the end of the year.