TORONTO -- The Ontario government is calling for “all hands on deck” and is asking anyone with a medical background to step forward in an effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, alongside Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Minister of Finance Rod Phillips, Premier Doug Ford announced the launch of an online portal that will match skilled workers with health-care institutions and agencies that require assistance.

“Today we are calling on reinforcements,” Ford said. “If you are listening, if you have medical training, if you want to save lives, we need you. Join the fight today because we need every person in this fight.”

The Health Workforce Matching Portal will match retired or non-active health care professionals, international-educated health-care professionals, students and volunteers with healthcare experience to employers in an effort to fill any gaps that may exist within the system.

Ford said that skilled workers have been asking how to help and alleviate the workload at hospitals or assessment centres.

“They don’t want to sit on the sidelines and watch as the virus spreads. They want to get out there and make a difference and we need them,” Ford said. “My message today to those on the front lines, those working in our hospitals, clinics and assessment centres, our message to our healthcare heroes is this: help is on the way.”

Healthcare institutions can also register to request additional support through the portal in order to identify areas where extra support is needed.

Elliott added that people who apply to a position through the portal will be paid for their efforts, unless they specify they want to volunteer their time.

Both the premier and the health minister were asked about allowing internationally trained doctors to help out on the frontlines and said that it would depend on their skillset.

“We are certainly looking at people trained in other jurisdictions,” Elliott said. “They may or may not, depending on their skillsets or experience, be able to practice medicine but they will certainly have a place in our health-care system.”

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca released a statement shortly after the announcement commending Ford for allowing foreign educated health-care workers to be assessed and deployed.

“This is something we should absolutely be doing during this crisis, but I hope the government will fast-track healthcare credentials for these workers once the crisis is over.”

Licenses needed to practise regulated professions

On Tuesday morning, prior to the provincial announcement, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called on the government and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to allow internationally-trained doctors to practise in their fields.

In Ontario, in order to work as a regulated professional, whether as a nurse or doctor, the individual must be licensed by the respective college.

The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons has started handing out 30-day licenses to some internationally-trained doctors, but critics say the process is cumbersome and difficult.

The Supervised Short Duration Certificate allows some internationally-trained physicians and Canadian medical school graduates to practise under supervision at public hospitals, psychiatric facilities and Crown agencies.

The college began issuing the licenses in March. Under the Medicine Act, the licenses can only be granted in extraordinary circumstances. The last time they were handed out was during the SARS pandemic, the college's spokesperson Shae Greenfield told CTV News Toronto Tuesday.

In order to apply for the license, an internationally-trained doctor must have graduated from a recognized medical school, practiced medicine in the past two years, secured an appointment at an accepted facility and identified a physician prepared to act as their supervisor.

“We have issued 10 licenses under the program, with another four applications currently in process,” Greenfield said. “In recent days, we have received a number of expressions of interest and/or requests for further details on the program.”

He said he could not say whether the 14 applicants were foreign-trained doctors or not.

In a letter to Minister of Health Christine Elliott, Brown wrote that there are 13,000 foreign-trained doctors and 6,000 foreign-education nurses in Ontario.

Brown called on the government to increase training positions and provide more funding to hospitals for residencies. He also asked the college to reduce barriers to registration for qualified candidates.

“We've got this awesome arsenal of talent ready willing and eager to help keep us safe,” Brown said during a news conference on Tuesday morning.

“I think we can learn from other jurisdictions. If you look at the state of New York and New Jersey, they have taken this approach. They have welcomed foreign-trained doctors into this battlefield of fighting COVID-19.”

Brampton Councillor Charmaine Williams told reporters Tuesday morning that the 30-day license program is not enough.

“We are in a state of emergency and it is finally time to put the foreign trained doctors who qualify to work to help keep us healthy and save lives and not just for 30 days but for 30 years,” she said on Tuesday.