Nurses and pharmacists are to get greater powers to prescribe medicines to patients under plans announced by the Government today.
From spring next year, those qualified as Extended Formulary Nurse Prescribers and pharmacist independent prescribers will be able to prescribe any licensed medicine for any medical condition.
The only exception will be for controlled drugs such as diamorphine.
But the move was branded "irresponsible and dangerous" by doctors' leaders.
The Department of Health said that the extension of prescribing powers would mean that specialist nurses running diabetes and heart disease clinics would be able to prescribe independently for local patients.
This could mean helping patients control high blood pressure, quit smoking and manage their diabetes.
The DoH said this would take pressure off GPs and allow them to focus on more complex cases.
But Dr Paul Miller, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, said: "This is an irresponsible and dangerous move. Patients will suffer.
"I would not have me or my family subject to anything other than the highest level of care and prescribing, which is that provided by a fully trained doctor."
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs Committee, added: "While we support the ability of suitably trained nurses and pharmacists to prescribe from a limited range of medicines for specific conditions, we believe only doctors have the necessary diagnostic and prescribing training that justifies access to the full range of medicines for all conditions.
"This announcement raises patient safety issues and we are extremely concerned that the training provided is not remotely equivalent to the five or six years training every doctor has undertaken."
Qualified nurses have had prescribing powers for a number of years which have been gradually increased to include more and more drugs.
Nurses and pharmacists will be able to take on the extended prescribing powers once they have completed the relevant training courses.
Once trained they will have to keep their skills up to date.
The DoH said that employers would allow nurses and pharmacists to prescribe once they are satisfied that they have appropriate registration and have the skills relevant to their clinical area.
Speaking at the Chief Nursing Officer's conference in London today, the Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said that extending prescribing responsibilities was an important part of the Government's commitment to modernising the NHS.
"By expanding traditional prescribing roles, patients can more easily access the medicines they need from an increased number of highly trained health professionals.
"Today's announcement means that the young person wanting to control their asthma or the terminally-ill patient being cared for at home by a multi-disciplinary healthcare team will soon find it easier and more convenient to get the medicines they need.
"This is another step towards a truly patient-led NHS, giving patients the power to choose where and by whom they are treated," Ms Hewitt said.
The Chief Nursing Officer Christine Beasley added: "Nurses are the biggest single staff group in the NHS and they have already demonstrated that they are safe, careful and professional prescribers.
"Pharmacists have wide knowledge of medicines and the effects they have on people.
"This knowledge is invaluable to their colleagues and to patients.
"Today's announcement demonstrates our confidence in nurses and pharmacists and our wish to use their skills and professionalism to the full."
The Head of Pharmacy Jeannette Howe said: "This is a major step forward in providing care that is more responsive to the needs of patients and the public.
"It is ground-breaking for the pharmacy profession.
"As independent prescribers, pharmacists will fully use their expertise in medicines, in partnership with patients and other members of the health care team."
Hemant Patel, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, said: "This announcement marks a significant milestone in the development of pharmacy services.
"Using their expert skills pharmacists will be able to directly prescribe medicines for a wider range of patients.
"This will allow faster access to medicines and help take the pressure off already over-worked GPs.Reuse content