Every GP surgery is to be rated from next year under a kitemark scheme backed by the Department of Health.

Every GP surgery is to be rated from next year under a kitemark scheme backed by the Department of Health.

Practice-based accreditation will be launched next April, grading surgeries on one of three levels according to the quality of patient care. Primary care trusts will be licensed to run the scheme, designed by the Royal College of GPs.

The scheme will be voluntary at first, but trusts will be asked to decide what action to take against any surgery that repeatedly fails to achieve the kitemark standard.

RCGP chair Professor Mayur Lakhani told HSJ: 'The problem it is trying to solve is that there is no inspection of practices by the Healthcare Commission or by PCTs.'

The scheme will create an 'integrated, single assessment process' for quality assurance, he said.

An expert panel, consisting of a manager, GP, nurse and patient representative, will spend up to two days visiting each surgery. Assessments will take place every three years and focus on access, facilities and the standard of patient care.

Professor Lakhani added that it would be 'a supportive developmental process' that would give PCTs a 'tool to assess practices'.

Accreditation will apply to all primary care providers, including any private sector companies that enter the market. Professor Lakhani said it would be 'a way of establishing a level playing field'.

He added: 'This will be good for patients, good for practices and will help PCTs.'

But funding would be a key issue, he warned: 'The big question is around how it will be resourced and supported in the current climate. We'd like to see each practice getting a grant from their PCT to fund this work.'

The current gold-standard quality practice award scheme run by the RCGP costs£3,600.

The programme will cover all 10,500 GP practices in the UK. Currently 2,000 surgeries in England, and most in Scotland and Northern Ireland, are covered by the voluntary quality team development programme which will be the basis for the minimum, level one grade.