Tony Blair has defended higher salaries being earned by GPs news that some family doctors are taking home £250,000 a year after expenses.
Experts say the government got its sums wrong in the contract
GP wages have risen by up to 25% since new contracts were introduced in 2004, according to specialist accounts.
Experts have said the contract was ill devised and is partly responsible for current NHS deficits.
But Mr Blair said he was proud doctors and nurses were being well paid for working hard to improve the NHS.
He told the New Health Network: "When people say why have you spent so much on nurses' and doctors' pay, I say because it's right we make our GPs the best paid in Europe, and boost nurses' pay and conditions, which is why the number of doctors in training is up over 68%, and nurses by 67%."
But Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said ministers had got the new contracts badly wrong.
"They didn't know what the GPs were doing and when the costs came through it was a third over their estimate, as well as doubling the costs of out-of-hours services," he said.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said the contracts were not good value for money as almost all GPs had qualified for large pay rises.
"No-one doubts that doctors should get a good income for a demanding and important job, but top rewards must be reserved for the top performers," he said.
The salary figures come from an annual survey by the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants due out later this month.
They suggest the average annual income for GPs could rise to £120,000 before tax.
But the figures also give evidence that some GPs are earning up to £250,000.
The survey is the first of its kind since the GP contract came into effect between April and December 2004.
Policy experts have said the government miscalculated its sums when it negotiated the deal.
The Department of Health has confirmed the current overspend on GPs is £300m.
Hamish Meldrum, lead GP negotiator for the British Medical Association, told the BBC average GP earnings were a bit below £100,000 a year.
He said the new contract was needed because GPs' earnings had fallen below those of other comparable professionals.
Some GPs were earning more money because they were now running a complex business, said Dr Meldrum.
"There will be a few GPs who are at the top of these and primarily they are getting that sort of money for actually running quite a complex business rather than necessarily providing health care," he said.
Niall Dickson, from the independent health think tank the King's Fund, said patients were unlikely to support huge pay increases for GPs.
"Overall we have not seen a big increase in productivity, indeed we may have seen a down in productivity because of shut surgeries on Saturday mornings, and no responsibility for 24 hour cover.
"It does not look like a terribly good deal at the moment for the taxpayer and the patient."