So ministers have 'blundered' again, according to London's Evening Standard. This time it is because they have failed to cap doctors' earnings.

The reason for this week's lambasting? Health secretary Patricia Hewitt's BBC interview last Friday in which she admitted that if the government had anticipated 'this business of GPs taking a higher share of income in profits, we would have wanted to do something to try to ensure that the ratio of profits to the total income stayed the same and therefore more money was invested in even better services for patients.'

With all eyes on next year's pay round, and talks over next year's GP contract in collapse, GPs' leaders could not miss the message being sent from on-high.

The Guardian explained that Ms Hewitt was risking a 'head-on clash with the British Medical Association' as it reported government figures published earlier this year showing that GP earnings rose by 30 per cent to£106,000 in 2004-05.

Doctors' leaders naturally reacted angrily to the comments. The Daily Telegraph quoted BMA GPs committee chair Dr Hamish Meldrum, who said: 'GP workload has never been higher'.

Meanwhile, an article in The Sunday Telegraph accusing GPs of falsely inflating disease levels to earn extra payments under the quality and outcomes framework drew angry denials from its GP readers.

As Dr Michael Harrison, from Beverley in Yorkshire, put it: 'Next you will be complaining that too many fire engines are going to houses that are actually on fire.'