GP leaders have attacked the NHS plan for setting 'unrealistic' targets in its call for family doctors to move to new contracts and limiting increases in the workforce.

In a joint statement, both the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Assocation criticised health secretary Alan Milburn's blueprint.

The guarantee of access within 48 hours of request to GPs by 2004 'could only be achieved after a much greater investment in the capacity of general practice than presently proposed', the statement said. Mr Milburn promised 2,000 more GPs by 2004.

The plan also set out a move to bring 'the majority of GPs' into personal medical services schemes in the next four years and introduce a single 'framework' to cover both the traditional national contract and local PMS arrangements - under which doctors can become state employees.

But BMA GPs committee deputy chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said: 'We do not believe it is in the patients' or the profession's interests for there to be an unseemly rush into PMS.

'There should not be any coercion, either implicit or explicit, to do so.'

The comments follow BMA chair Dr Ian Bogle's attack on the PMS proposals as 'unacceptable in their current form'.

The schemes are run as pilot projects, but the plan says all successful projects 'will become permanent'.

Salaried GPs will 'come to form a growing number of family doctors providing that is what they choose to do'.

Doctors will be able to switch over to PMS arrangements without a lengthy pilot phase, the government promises.