The process of negotiating a new national contract for GPs, being led by the NHS Confederation, was formally started last week with the publication of a statement of intent from the confederation and the British Medical Association's GP committee.

The statement agrees that a new contract should address issues such as flexible working and recruitment problems, as well as rewarding quality and responsiveness to patients'needs and recognising 'the contributions that can be made by an extended range of services'.

The negotiations will attempt to agree a contract which brings together the principles of the current national general medical services contract with local flexibility, modelled on personal medical services arrangements.

The committee has made it clear that the contracts represent two ends of the spectrum and the aim is to bring them together.

Committee joint deputy chair Dr Hamish Meldrum told HSJ the statement was a positive start:

'There were some positive things like workforce pressures and making work more familyfriendly. We are aware the NHS plan talks about both contracts working under a single framework - we are saying there has to be a balance. There is a difference over where that lies.'

There will not be a published timetable of formal meetings, as in the past with government negotiators, but a more flexible series of discussions between the two parties.Dr Meldrum said there would be 'a wide variety of contacts', including short discussions and possibly a weekend away together.

The committee wants to have a contract in place by April 2002.