A national accreditation framework for GPs and pharmacists with special interests has been launched by the Department of Health. It aims to ensure standards of care in the community are equivalent to those in the acute sector.

Unveiling the framework, national primary care director Dr David Colin-Thom» said: 'Our aim is to ensure GPs and pharmacists with special interests and the services in which they work are safe, high quality and improve the patient experience and health outcomes in their communities.'

The measure is part of new guidance, Implementing Care Closer to Home, which sets out how NHS commissioners should be providing more specialised services in the community and how these should mirror the levels of care traditionally only available in hospitals.

Primary care trusts will be responsible for forming accreditation panels that comprise at least one senior commissioner, senior professional representative, lead clinician and a lay person.

They will be expected to verify the skills and competencies of both individual GPs and pharmacists with special interests and their services by March 2009. Re-accreditation will be carried out within three years.

NHS Confederation PCT Network director David Stout said: 'There have been practitioners with special interest initiatives happening around the country for a while, but in the absence of a national framework PCTs have had to devise their own methods of accreditation. Hopefully, having a more structured framework will be less burdensome for trusts.'

He added that PCTs will have to find ways of increasing the scale of their expertise to meet the new stipulations and should consider involving local acute trusts and academic centres such as deaneries in the process.

Barking and Dagenham PCT assistant director of primary care commissioning Jemma Gilbert said: 'Generally commissioners welcome a national framework because it provides assurance of standards of care and the notion that services will be better accredited.

'It supports and recognises the achievements in special interest services that are happening locally. It really takes their roles forward and I think we will start to see national definitions of their work that can be shared across PCTs.'

Royal College of GPs vice-chair Professor Nigel Sparrow said accreditation would give them more credibility. 'A national model would prevent variability of quality of care between PCTs,' he said.