Primary care trusts that tried a new test of commissioning abilities say the process was hard but helpful.

More details of the world class commissioning assurance system, designed to provide a stringent assessment of PCTs' progress, were published by the Department of Health last week.

All PCTs have been told to be ready to embark on the process this summer, with the first annual round of tests due to be completed by the end of this year. Organisations will be judged on three elements - health outcomes, competencies and governance - and look set to be presented with a "score card" and more detailed final report.

The evaluation will be based on performance data, self assessment, interviews with managers and views of local partners, culminating in a panel review.

The DH said the system was "about 80 per cent complete". A consortium, led by management consultancy firm McKinsey, has been awarded the contract to support its development. The test was trialled by five PCTs in the North West, including Manchester and East Lancashire .

"I think it's very fair and measured," said Manchester chief executive Laura Roberts. "It is less work than [2006 PCT assessment programme] Fitness for Purpose."

Ms Roberts said it was vital to have a strong review panel. In the trials, panels consisted of an independent expert, a local government representative, a clinician, a strategic health authority director and another PCT chief executive.

"You need to have a panel whose opinion you have confidence in and that understands your issues, so it's not merely a simplistic assessment," said Ms Roberts.

East Lancashire PCT director of strategic commissioning Cath Galaska said the feedback had been "really helpful" in looking at how the trust could achieve its goals. "It was hard work in terms of volume but not because it was asking for things we hadn't got."