Primary care managers will be able to have a say in the national GP contract negotiations through a steering committee linked to NHS Confederation negotiators, according to chief executive Stephen Thornton.

The confederation is consulting members on whether to take on the employers' side role in the negotiations, as proposed by health secretary Alan Milburn in his confederation conference speech last week. The charity's trustees are set to discuss the issue on Tuesday. If members are in favour of the plan, Mr Thornton envisages a small negotiating team 'all drawn from the service, principally from primary care trusts'.

In addition, a mechanism for consulting the membership, possibly a steering committee to whom the negotiators would report, would maintain a two-way flow of information between the negotiating team and NHS managers.

'It is critically important that PCTs in particular feel a connection to the process, 'Mr Thornton said. 'I would like to inject a greater degree of informality and involvement on the ground.

'It is important that the people who actually manage the contract have an input into its construction, rather than having something handed down from on high.'

He emphasised that negotiations would bring 'a national contract', but added: 'The proposal was put to us by the Department of Health in England. They must make it absolutely clear whether we are negotiating for the whole of the UK or just England, and what arrangements will be for dealing with the other governments.'

The British Medical Association has broadly welcomed the new proposals, providing that a new contract is fully resourced by the government, but a spokesperson said its threatened mass resignation of GPs still stood.

Joint deputy GP committee chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said: 'Part of the reason we held the ballot was because negotiations seemed to have got so bogged down. . . It may speed things up.'

Special issues for GPs outside England, particularly in Scotland, need to be addressed, he said.

'There may have to be separate negotiations on specific issues.

We are looking for a broad national core contract with opportunities for local flexibility, including for each of the four countries.'

The NHS Alliance said the new system could boost primary care.

Chair Dr Michael Dixon said: 'The NHS Confederation is in an excellent position to redress the imbalance between the status and pay of doctors in primary and secondary care.'