New powers for pharmacists in Ontario and expanding powers for nurse-practitioners in British Columbia (to match ones nurse-practitioners in Ontario already have) show how smart cost-cutting exercises can strengthen the health system. Last week, the Ontario government set the stage to allow pharmacists in the province to take on new roles, including renewing non-narcotic prescriptions and administering flu shots. Expanding the role of pharmacists was one of the recommendations of the Drummond Report to make health-care dollars go further. The move has the support of pharmacists, not surprisingly, but also of the Ontario Medical Association, which said collaboration between health-care professionals “will strengthen the system” as long as they are properly trained. There is no reason why pharmacists can’t be trained to safely inject flu shots in Ontario, as they do elsewhere, and follow due diligence when it comes to prescription renewal. It is quite likely that busy pharmacists will get more practice at both injections and renewals than some physicians do. Expanding the roles of some health professionals can improve access to health care for Canadians — especially those in rural areas who don’t have as many options. Nurse-practitioners, for example, can do some tasks which were once limited to physicians, including diagnosing and prescribing in some cases. At a time when many Ontarians still have a hard time finding a family doctor, nurse-practitioners can enable more people to get medical attention when they need it and at a lower cost. Easier access to flu shots — picking one up at the drugstore, rather than making an appointment — should boost the numbers of people getting them. In British Columbia, where pharmacists can administer flu shots, 50 per cent of the population received one last year, compared with Ontario’s 33 per cent. Flu costs the Canadian health system half a billion dollars a year, on average. Read more: