GP surgeries face losing millions of pounds in funding if a study finds patients are unhappy about waiting times for appointments.
New rules state that practices will have cash withdrawn from their budget if they receive negative responses in the GP Patient Survey – published in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
An average practice of three GPs with 5,800 patients could lose £7,000, while a larger one could see up to £25,000 in funding disappear. Experts are predicting total cuts could run to more than £10m.
But GPs argue the fines would be passed on to patients in the form of a reduction in the number of appointments available and the cutting of staff hours.
The fact that only two of 49 questions affect GPs' funding – both of which concerned appointments – has led to criticism, while some doctors also believe the survey is based on responses from too few patients.
Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association GPs' Committee, told the Daily Mail: "We are not defending people who are not very good, but a large number of practices in England will be adversely hit and in many cases unfairly hit.
"The penalties are going to range from tiny to huge. I don't think patients realised that when they filled in the survey."