NATA and MDU PHL celebrating 50-years of continuous accreditation  

Member News September 12, 2022
NATA and MDU PHL celebrating 50-years of continuous accreditation  
NATA team

Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory (MDU PHL) 

As Melbourne grew quickly into a large city by world standards in the 1880s, all manner of waste was dumped into open street channels, which ran into the Yarra River and Hobsons Bay, polluting waterways and causing epidemics of fatal typhoid and diphtheria.  

In 1890 a Royal Commission into the unsanitary conditions in Melbourne identified a need for a specialist laboratory in Victoria to carry out bacteriological examinations.  

The Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory (MDU PHL, formerly also known as Public Health Laboratory and Bacteriology Laboratory) was then established in 1897.  

MDU PHL is the longest continuously serving public health laboratory in Australia. It is located within the Doherty Institute at the University of Melbourne and is primarily funded by the Victorian Department of Health. 

MDU PHL now undertakes reference microbiology testing for notifiable pathogens and organisms of public health significance, including surveillance of food environmental, and waterborne diseases, antimicrobial resistance, invasive bacterial pathogens, and sexually transmitted infections. 

Q:  How did you come to be accredited with NATA and in what area for?  

A:  In the late 1960s the Director at the time had concerns about the increasing number of foodborne outbreaks occurring in the state of Victoria and the public and media attention that these were receiving. He made the decision that we needed to opt into a peer reviewed program in order to ensure operation to the highest standard. We achieved NATA accreditation for food and water testing in 1972.   

Q: Have you kept the same accreditation or extended into other areas?  

A:  We have maintained our original accreditation since 1972 and have since added Medical (Human Pathology 1991), Veterinary (Animal Health 2009) and a Forensic Operations Module (FOM 2005).  

It should be noted that MDU PHL was one of the first laboratories to be accredited for the Forensic Operations Module. This particular accreditation was pursued to ensure that our processes would stand up to legal scrutiny.  

We also drove the need to have a public health investigation class of testing added to our scope and this was achieved in 2008. 

In addition, we became one of the first labs in Australia to add Whole Genome Sequencing to our scope covering all fields of testing (2018) and the first lab in Australia to have a mobile testing lab accredited and added to the scope (2021) as part of the pandemic response for the state of Victoria. 

Q:  How has NATA accreditation contributed to your, your clients and industry success?  

A:  MDU as a Public Health Laboratory is involved in testing a wide variety of sample types. NATA accreditation is a requirement for our customers and our broad scope covering multiple fields of accreditation allows us to provide a One Health approach to public health testing in the state of Victoria.  

Having a robust peer reviewed quality system also provides confidence that our service is maintained to the highest level and ensures our records are able to stand up to legal scrutiny if/when required. 

Q: What advice would you offer to someone seeking accreditation?  

A:  NATA accreditation needs to be embedded into the organisational philosophy and all staff need to take ownership of the quality system so our best advice is to get all staff involved in developing and managing the requirements under your quality system.