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A nurse in the intensive care unit at the Humber River Hospital in Toronto on Jan. 25.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s nursing college can now start allowing internationally-educated nurses to practise while they work toward full registration, which the government hopes will see thousands more nurses in the health system.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones announced Thursday that the change aimed at stabilizing the health system is effective immediately.

“These changes will bring more health care workers into our health system faster, helping to care for people when they need it,” Ms. Jones said in a statement.

“Our government will work with all partners to ensure Ontario’s nurses, doctors, personal-support workers and other health care professionals have the resources, support and guidance they need to enter the work force and continue delivering the care Ontarians deserve.”

It comes as hospitals across the province have been forced to close emergency rooms for hours or days at a time in recent months due to nursing staff shortages – particularly in the summer – and emergency rooms report large patient volumes and long wait times, delaying and reducing ambulance availability.

The minister had previously asked the College of Nurses of Ontario to draft regulations to boost the numbers of nurses in the province and she said Thursday that they have now been approved by the government.

The college has said the changes could potentially help the 5,970 active international applicants currently living in Ontario.

Also effective immediately, the college will have more flexibility in allowing retired or non-practising nurses to return to the field.

Ms. Jones had also asked the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to propose ways to get more doctors working in the province and says effectively immediately, physicians licensed in other provinces and territories can get a temporary three-month registration to work in Ontario.

She is also announcing a number of other changes that will take effect on Jan. 1, including imposing time limits on health regulatory colleges to make registration decisions and banning them from requiring Canadian work experience for registration.

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