GP pay has stalled after big rises
Inflation-busting pay rises for many GPs in recent years have been halted - with the average salary falling in 2006/07, NHS figures show.
The average salary for 85% of GPs was £104,000, a fall of 2.4%.
This comes after sharp rises following a new GP contract in 2004 - as much as 58% on average , according to a spending watchdog.
The British Medical Association said most earned under £100,000, and further falls could risk damaging morale.
The GP contract involved paying GPs more to improve the care they offered to patients, but GPs have faced criticism that they were being paid more, with not enough sign of benefit to patients.
A National Audit Office report suggested that doctors were actually working fewer hours per week, despite the rise in income.
The figures from 2006/07, based on an analysis of tax returns by GPs, suggest practice finances are now coming under pressure.
Although gross income increased by 1%, expenses rose at a faster rate, effectively cutting GP pay.
Partners in "dispensing" practices, which combine the services of a surgery and a pharmacy, and cover approximately 15% of GPs, earned the most, an average of £126,996, a very slight decrease from the previous year.
However, for the bulk of GP partners, the average was £104,093.
There was wide variation in the amount partners earned, with 6% earning less than £50,000, while 0.8% broke through the £250,000 barrier.
The British Medical Association, which disputes the 58% figure offered by the NAO, said its calculations suggested that more than half of all GPs on the national GP contract, as opposed to locally-negotiated rates, earned on average less than £100,000, and had received in effect a 3% pay cut.
Dr Richard Vautrey, the deputy chairman of its GP Committee, predicted that earnings were likely to fall for three successive years.
"This, combined with rapidly rising practice expenses, including making sure staff get the pay rises they deserve, means practices are unable to plan for the future with confidence, in particular by investing in new services which better meet the needs of their patients.
"GPs are working harder and more intensively, and many GPs feel they have been unfairly penalised in recent years for providing high quality care to their patients.
"Successive freezes on practice resources risks returning to the days of low GP morale, which would undo one of the main reasons the new contract was agreed by government."
Alastair Henderson, joint acting director of NHS Employers said the figures were expected.
"In 2006 we made significant changes to the contract which resulted in efficiencies of over 7% - saving £498m - whilst improving patient services, to better control expenditure on GP services.
"This ensured a contract that was better for patients, fair to the profession and represents good value for public money."