The Ontario government says there will be a role for internationally trained doctors to play in the fight against COVID-19.

At a news conference at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is launching a new online portal to connect health care providers with skilled health care workers, including foreign-trained physicians.

“This new health workforce matching portal is going to match skilled frontline health care workers with employers enabling us to ensure help reaches a range of different care providers or public health units in need of more help,” she said.

Elliott said retired health care providers along with students and foreign-trained medical professionals will all be permitted to apply to work in various health care settings, including hospitals, clinics, and assessment centres.

The news comes after Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown called on the province to loosen restrictions that are preventing foreign-trained doctors from helping in the fight against the virus.

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

“And 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.”

Last week, provincial epidemiologists released projections that suggested Ontario could see between 3,000 and 15,000 deaths due to COVID-19 over a two-year period.

According to Brown, HealthForceOntario Marketing and Recruitment Agency estimates that there are currently 13,000 foreign educated doctors and 6,000 foreign educated nurses in the province.

“Our request to the province… is to make sure people who are ready and willing to help, let's use their talent. They shouldn't be working in a packaging plant. They shouldn't be working in real estate right now when they could be helping save lives,” he added.

“We have physicians who can help run ventilators. We have physicians who can help care for patients who are going through pneumonia. We need these extra hands,” Brown said.

It should be noted that the province is issuing supervised, temporary 30-day licences to some internationally trained doctors.

Qualifying doctors must have completed a medical degree at an accredited medical school, have practiced medicine full-time within the past two years, and must secure an appointment and supervisor in Ontario within one of the approved categories of facilities laid out in the Medicine Act.

Brampton city councillor Charmaine Williams suggested that the move does not go far 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.

In an open letter to Elliott released Tuesday, Brown said the College of Physicians and Surgeons should be “compelled to reduce barriers to registration” for qualified applicants.

The three main barriers preventing foreign trained doctors from obtaining required credentials, Williams said, are the costs associated with the examination process, the infrequency of testing, and the lack of hospital residencies for foreign-trained physicians.

“It is a complete waste of human capital and human potential,” Williams said.“If these doctors from these cities pass the same exam process, they should be allowed to help us get over this pandemic.”

Elliott said foreign-trained doctors who are not permitted to practice medicine still have “a very important role” to play in the health care system during the pandemic.

“For foreign-trained professionals in other jurisdictions... we are going to have to match them with their appropriate skill level into the kind of work they will be able to do. So they may or may not be able to practice medicine,” she said.

“That will certainly be experience that will be important for them in order to obtain their credentials provincially. That's something we will have to take a look at once we are through this. Right now we are really concentrating on dealing with COVID-19.”

Speaking to CP24 on Tuesday night, Brown said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the province's new portal. 

"I hope it includes physicians," he said. "If this portal will create a pathway for them to temporarily help out, that’s wonderful."