Edwin Poots has written to the Secretary of State asking her to relax immigration laws to allow more foreign doctors to work in Northern Ireland.
As previously reported in this newspaper, the Health Minister said he would consider action if he believed the current shortage of doctors was impacting on the health of patients.
Last night he confirmed he has written to Theresa Villiers, as he believed that making it easier for doctors from outside the EU to work in the UK would help address the shortage of doctors. The matter has been raised with Home Secretary Theresa May. The move was revealed as concerns over doctor shortages in Northern Ireland were discussed by Stormont's Health Committee.
"I have raised the issue with the Secretary of State who has written to Theresa May about our inability at this moment in time to recruit staff from countries outside the European Union," he said. "We traditionally had a good supply of doctors that came particularly from Indian sub-continent who were excellent doctors."
Staffing problems led to the partial closure of the Downe and Lagan Valley Hospitals in January. They were unable to fill 70 shifts for middle grade doctors. Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride said it was important that training in emergency medicine programmes be made attractive.
Mr McBride (left) said: "There is absolutely no doubt we need to increase the number of consultants and the number of nursing staff in the Belfast Trust."