The chains, who include leading high street names such as Boots and Superdrug, are interested in expanding the role of the pharmacists, who are highly trained but are prevented from carrying out a simple diagnosis.
One high street chain said it was looking at a "wider repertoire" of drugs, which could be sold over the counter by chemists without the customers paying the National Health Service prescription charge of pounds 5.65.
Some pharmacists also would like to be able to prescribe drugs in a limited areas, such as antibiotics, asthma, and skin conditions, while customers would be asked to see their doctors for anti-depressants and narcotics.
The talks could lead to "turf wars" with family doctors who will jealously guard their right to prescribe, and it could lead to criticism that the unique doctor-patient relationship is being harmed. But the GPs have been complaining for years that morale among family doctors is low because of the stress of the growing demands on their time, both in the surgery and with home visits.
However, the Government has received several reports suggesting that it would be more cost-effective to allow the chemists to broaden their role, which could also take some of the workload off the GPs.
Ministers have already granted nurses the right to prescribe drugs, under strict guidance from doctors, and allowing chemists to prescribe may be seen as an extension of that development. But ministers and the retailers also will have to face up to ethical questions, about chemists advising customers on drugs which they sell.
The pharmacists' leaders have been pressing for the role of the chemists to be expanded in return for higher fees. Mr Dobson will make it clear to the profession that it cannot expect any extra money from the taxpayer for giving advice to customers, but it could earn higher incomes through higher profits.
Welcoming the moves, one pharmacy chain said there were working parties which were drawing up protocols for the drugs which chemists may be able to prescribe and the limited number of conditions which they would be allowed to diagnose without the patient first visiting the GP.Reuse content