The British Medical Association is still set to face major problems in negotiating a new contract for GPs despite last week's ballot result confirming that a majority would be prepared to resign from the NHS if a contract is not in place by next April.

The ballot, in which 86 per cent of the two-thirds who voted said they would be prepared to submit post-dated resignation letters, was called in an attempt to put pressure on the government to speed up negotiations.

The ballot also sought to secure national negotiating rights for the BMA's GPs' committee on behalf of those GPs - about 20 per cent - on personal medical service contracts.

But although the Labour government wrote to the GPs' committee before the election, offering to arrange a timetable for negotiations, it is not conceding grounds on national negotiating rights and regards the ballot as having been an irrelevance.

John Denham, who as health minister had led the negotiations, said GPs had been asked to support the ballot as 'a negotiating tactic' and that 'the government's commitment to a new contract means that this ballot was not needed'.

A Labour Party document on GPs issued last week made it clear that although senior Labour figures are willing to continue discussions on national negotiating rights for PMS doctors, to grant them 'when these are local schemes and involve nurses as well as doctors, would be inappropriate'.

GPs' committee joint deputy chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said that although the committee is 'seeking the right to negotiate the national aspects of PMS that apply to GPs', it will 'work with the incoming government to achieve a solution to these problems'.

NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon said the ballot was the wrong message at the wrong time.

Despite voting yes in the ballot himself, he said: 'The BMA has the diagnosis right, but the treatment is wrong.'He called for doctors to cooperate with the next government to improve the NHS.

The NHS Confederation also called the ballot a 'distraction' from the business of negotiating a contract.Chief executive Stephen Thornton said: 'The time for posturing is over. The BMA and the government should get around the negotiating table as soon as possible after the election.'