Senior nurses and pharmacists across the NHS are to be given extra training, after the government handed them greater powers to prescribe drugs.
The move, which is being vigorously opposed by doctors, will allow nurses and pharmacists to prescribe all but the most powerful drugs.
The measure, announced by health secretary Patricia Hewitt, means nurses and pharmacists will be able to prescribe treatments for more serious conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, which have traditionally been the domain of GPs.
The powers will only be available to more experienced nurses and pharmacists, who will have to be nominated by their employers for the extra training, Hewitt said.
The move was welcomed by both nursing and pharmacist groups, but the British Medical Association (BMA) said it was opposed to the move and demanded a meeting with the health secretary to discuss the plan.
Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee, told the BBC: “We believe only doctors have the necessary diagnostic and prescribing training that justifies access to the full range of medicine for all conditions.”