TORONTO - Ontario will move ahead with plans to allow many health-care professionals who aren't doctors to provide more services, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday.

Legislation will be introduced "soon" that will permit pharmacists, nurse practitioners and pharmacists to do more for patients, such as write prescription refills or order diagnostic tests, he said.

"People needing a prescription refill would be able to make one trip to the pharmacist instead of two trips -- one to the doctor and then one to the pharmacist," McGuinty said Friday in remarks prepared for a speech to the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario.

Instead of waiting in an emergency room, patients could get an X-ray ordered by a physiotherapist or a broken bone set by a nurse practitioner, he added.

"These changes are all about putting more tools in the hands of people who are on the front lines of health-care delivery," he said.

"Because when patients get timely care, not only is it good for them, our whole health-care system runs smoother and makes more efficient use of limited resources."

The government has mused before about providing more powers to pharmacists and nurses, but sources say the legislation will affect a broad range of regulated professions, including dieticians, midwives, respiratory therapists -- and even dentists.

The legislation will likely be introduced in May.

The move is intended to ease congestion in the province's crowded emergency rooms and provide other alternatives if patients don't have a doctor.

An estimated 850,000 people in Ontario don't have a family doctor.

Removing the legislative barriers to nurse practitioners and other professionals will allow them to use their skills more widely, said Doris Grinspun, executive director of the nurses' association.

"It's absolutely essential at a time when we're trying to achieve a better and more timely access to health services," she said.

"The details, of course, are what matters."

The Ontario Medical Association, which represents the province's doctors, said Friday it would "review the legislation carefully" and respond once all the details were known.

"Our objective remains to protect the health and safety of patients," it said in a statement.

The legislation comes in the wake of a report last fall recommending that pharmacists be given prescribing powers for minor ailments.

The Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council has since made other suggestions to the government about how to improve regulations governing various health professions.

But the legislation won't necessarily act on all of those recommendations, sources said.

Ontario has been grappling for years with rising health-care costs, which gobble up nearly half of every dollar the government spends.

In a report last June, the OMA noted that the province was short about 2,500 doctors and that many practising physicians were over the age of 65, when many retire.