GPs will not see a real pay increase for at least five years, according to King's Fund's chief economist John Appleby.
Public spending is projected to grow by around 1.2 per cent a year over inflation from 2011 onwards. But that figure includes welfare spending, which is likely to spiral as the recession takes hold.
'The real rise available to the NHS will certainly be under 1.1 per cent,' said Mr Appleby. 'It will be very close to a zero real increase.'
As a result, there will be pressure to keep down wages. 'I'd be talking about no real pay rise for the next five years,' he said. 'If you haven't got the money, you haven't got the money.'
But GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman, the man charged with winning GPs a decent pay rise, disagreed with Mr Appleby's diagnosis.
He said that NHS funding was a two-way street, and that the need to properly pay clinicians to keep them within the health service could put pressure on the government to increase the department's budget.
'I don't see a small funding rise as a hindrance to GPs and their staff getting properly paid,' Dr Buckman said. 'If the government has the idea that a decrease in funding means freezing pay, then the NHS won't survive.'
In its recent evidence to the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body (DDRB), the GPC demanded a 4 per cent rise in GMS income to combat soaring practice expenses. NHS Employers called for the uplift to be limited to 1.5 per cent.
The DDRB is expected to make its decision early in the new year.
Mr Appleby added that the 'silver lining' with financial hardship was that the NHS could no longer throw money at every problem, and would instead have to find more efficient ways of operating.
'There's possibly an argument that the NHS was given too much money too quickly,' he said.
He pointed to the 30 per cent increase in staff numbers in just three years, from 1 million to 1.3 million. The flood of new staff could be blamed for the fall in productivity, he said.
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