The province announced yesterday it is advancing its plans to offload medical duties from doctors to pharmacists to cut costs.

Health Minister Maureen MacDonald introduced legislation that will allow the province’s 1,100 pharmacists to deliver vaccines, order lab tests and adjust medication levels.

Other rule changes were announced this January to allow pharmacists to write prescriptions for minor ailments like colds, dermatitis and athlete’s foot.

The health system is facing a looming funding and labour shortage, said MacDonald, and increasing the power of pharmacists will save money.

“There are health care providers in the system who are not working to the full scope of their practice,” she said, noting that some people go to the emergency room to refill subscriptions when they can’t get in to see a doctor.

“I can tell you right now that going to the emergency room to get your prescription renewed is extraordinarily expensive compared to being able to get access to a pharmacist.”

MacDonald refused to say how much could be saved, or even whether those numbers have been crunched.

Uptake by pharmacists could take time.

Some new procedures, such as administering vaccinations, will require new training and certification. So far, only 40 pharmacists have completed the certification courses from Dalhousie University and the upgrade will not be mandatory.

However, it will be part of the standard training for new pharmacists.

This would potentially allow pharmacies to operate as vaccine clinics in the case of mass immunizations, such as the H1N1 drive in the fall.

None of the changes have yet taken place because the government and the province and the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists are still working out details and standards of practice.

MacDonald said they hope to have the reforms enacted by the end of the year.