It is now over 18 months since the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus which has impacted so many around the world. And it is just over 12 months since the very first laboratory in Australia was accredited by NATA for COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing.
At the beginning of March 2020, we made the collective decision to support efforts in fighting COVID-19 by offering accreditation of SARS-Cov-2 free of charge to our members. We alerted our network on 20th March 2020 and began forming a dedicated pool of assessors and an internal team to work solely on this project. Western Diagnostics in Perth became the inaugural recipient of accreditation in April 2020.
It has been a tough time for many with countless businesses having to change their approach and ours has been no different. Our bid to remain operational during statewide lockdowns has led to new strategies/ways of working, not just for us, but for all our stakeholders. So, thank you all for your cooperation during this time.
It has also resulted in a mix of in-person and virtual techniques now being part of our daily operations to complete assessments. And while there have been elements of our services which have returned to pre-COVID processes, a few have evolved, like harnessing the immediacy of virtual interactions with our assessors.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Challenging times often bring out our best ingenuity. I think we’ve seen that through the work Victoria Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory was able to achieve by safely growing the virus and sharing that with the world which enabled effective international diagnostic testing.
It is true that when asked to respond to testing conditions, NATA has witnessed some amazing work produced by the laboratories we accredit over the past seven decades. The National Cervical Screening Program is one highly successful public health initiative in Australia, halving cervical cancer incidence and mortality since it was introduced in 1991. This has been made possible by NATA/RCPA’s accreditation underpinning the organised, population-based cervical screening to detect precancerous changes. This has allowed treatment to start typically before any progression to cervical cancer.
As each of the 19 sectors that NATA encompasses have evolved, so too have our practices. This should be expected from one of the founding members of the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC).
In our role as the national accreditation body for Australia, we ensure that organisations comply with international and domestic standards to maintain safety for all of us. This has meant contributing to industry forums, sharing our knowledge with our members and discussing regulatory changes with our extensive network of assessors.
We aim to support our stakeholders by educating and sharing examples of best practice, as well as following up on any concerns which are brought to our attention. As part of NATA’s feedback process, we investigate all information shared with us, and in some instances, it helps to expand and update our assessments to move with technical and software developments across industries. This has been possible through continued dialogue with those who are on-site every day.
One case in point happened in 2015, when software was brought to our attention that could potentially falsify testing results. NATA takes any information provided to us seriously, and we investigated the viability of this software, how it could be used and then shared the findings with our members. Over the next three years, NATA also organised a series of talks to address the issue of integrity and fraud, as well as putting in place safeguards against its use. This information was passed on to all assessors and none have seen the use of this technology in any lab in Australia to date.
In recent years, NATA has responded to potential issues by developing educational programs for industry counselling on the potential pitfalls which could affect accreditation status with members through a number of specialist forums, including the National Road Agency Forum. Just as we have disseminated information about how to remain vigilant across labs and spot any potential improper or fraudulent activity. One of the other initiatives has been to introduce a series of MoU’s with different local authorities with a special focus on facilitating joint investigations.
There has also been a refocus of NATA’s program on the clinical governance within laboratories and lab networks, upon the redefined standard coming from The National Pathology Accreditation Advisory Council.
Believing in better
We have built our accreditation history upon impartially and maintaining the confidence in reliable testing, calibration, measurement and inspection data for government and the wider industry. This has included collaboration with local and national departments, as well as industry leading forums on particular issues, vital to the integrity of accreditation in this country – and this will continue to be the case. Physical and virtual events are also an area we have received positive feedback on. Therefore, we will continue to expand our commitment to this resource for all the industries we represent.
We understand that accreditation forms a large part of the reputational and business viability for many of our members. And at NATA we strive for the very best standards to keep all Australians safe, so if you have information which can support our mission, remember you can share with us through our ‘Contact NATA’ page.
NATA Chief Executive Officer