TORONTO - The Liberal government is putting patient safety at risk by letting non-physicians do some of the work doctors currently perform, the Family and General Practice section of the Ontario Medical Association warned Wednesday.

The family doctors' lobby is fighting back against provincial government plans to let nurse practitioners lead local health clinics and to allow pharmacists to prescribe some drugs.

"Having these roles filled by non-medical personnel is like having a member of a flight crew fly an airplane," said OMA section chair Dr. David Bridgeo.

"How many people would be comfortable with having someone with less education, training and experience replacing pilots?"

The doctors' group plans to launch a media campaign this week to focus on the issue of patient safety and point out the potential dangers of the government's plan, said Bridgeo.

"Our major concern is that a number of non-medical personnel are being invited, through legislation, to step in and perform tasks that have traditionally been done by medical doctors," he said.

"This is a decision which may have unintended consequences and has the potential to affect patient safety."

Ontario's pharmacists fired back Wednesday, calling the doctors' position "unfortunate" and insisting they are qualified for the extra tasks the province is asking of them.

"Like doctors, pharmacists are highly trained and regulated health care professionals with clear standards of practice designed to protect patient safety," said Dennis Darby, chief executive officer of the Ontario Pharmacists' Association.

"While physicians are the experts in diagnosis, pharmacists are experts in medication and medication management."

The doctors' media campaign is not an attack on either the government or other health care providers, said OMA section vice-chair Dr. Jim Stewart.

"The family doctors of Ontario want our patients to know that we care about what you think all the time, not just at election time," said Stewart.

"Health care needs to be planned beyond the next election since politically correct stop gaps and piecemeal plans will not provide sustainable benefits."

Premier Dalton McGuinty dismissed the doctors' criticism Wednesday, and said the government is spending almost half its budget on health care and needs to make the most of every dollar.

"We want to maximize the professional responsibilities of any one profession, and we think that we can, safely, enable pharmacists to provide the kind of services we're talking about," said McGuinty.

"That's why we're the first province in Canada that's going to move forward with nurse practitioner-led clinics."

However, Stewart said that only doctors should be the ones leading teams of other health care professionals, not nurse practitioners.

"Even as the most trained and educated primary care providers, we make mistakes, so how can lesser-trained or educated individuals not make significant mistakes," wondered Stewart.

"The difference is they may not recognize those mistakes and they may not know how to manage those mistakes."

McGuinty said the government consulted widely before proposing the increased roles for nurse practitioners and pharmacists.

The full Ontario Medical Association will announce its position on increased roles for nurse practitioners and pharmacists next week.