Jennifer Evans, CEO, NATA

The importance of accreditation in healthcare cannot be overstated. Though every healthcare organization establishes some sort of internal standards for operations, accreditation by a reputable authoritative bodyensures that your organization complies with relevant national and international standardsof quality and safety. Patients who enter the health care system—whether a hospital, medical clinic, or laboratory need to be confident that they will receive care that is safe, effective, and consistent with the latest clinical evidence. Accreditation provides that confidence.

Cognizant of this fact, Australia’s leading national accreditation body, NATA,(National Association of Testing Authorities) has been offering world-class assessment, accreditation, and training services to laboratories and technical facilities across Australia for the last 75 years. NATA began its journey in 1947 when The Australian Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments sensed a need for an authoritative body whose prime objective was to foster the improvement of testing services, required to support Australia’s post-WWII recovery and development. That was to be achieved by the formal accreditation of competent testing laboratories through a process of peer review. As a result, by the mid-1980s, NATA was called on by the Australian Government to establish a process to accredit competent pathology laboratories. Today, NATA is empowering organizations by giving them the tools, skills, and confidence through its accreditation to meet the highest performance and reliability measures, giving assurance to their customers and the community.

Offering World-Class, Innovative, and Flexible Accreditation Services

NATA provides formal recognition and accreditation services that involve regular, scheduled on-site assessments by teams comprising experts in the activities performed by the facility being assessed. In healthcare, NATA accredits a wide range of facilities, including pathology laboratories, workplace drug testing laboratories, medical imaging practices, sleep disorder services, and biobanks. Over the years, NATA has played a vital role in assisting Australian industries to evolve and improve, supporting industry and government to grow and modernize the economy, providing confidence in day-to-day products and services for the Australian community, and helping underpin trade in competitive global markets.

NATA’s success can be attributed to several factors. However, some key aspects that it believes have contributed to its success are regulatory recognition and support from the (Australian) Commonwealth Government, support through formal agreements with Australian States and Territories, and support of key partners such as the RCPA, RANZCR, and the ASA, and other stakeholders in industry professionals including a wide range of professional bodies. Besides this, it also attributes its success to the industry professionals who devote their time to participating in assessments as peer technical assessors and as experts in NATA’s technical committees and its international recognition which facilitates global acceptance of results issued by its accredited facilities.

Assisting Testing Facilities to Evolve and Improve

NATA’s key to success also lies in its philosophy that is built around its core objective which has not changed substantively in 75 years — to promote improvement in testing services in Australia. “NATA is unable to provide consultancy services as that would be a conflict of interest. So we underpin improvement through accreditation of testing facilities that meet international standards of best practice and using our accreditation process, and in particular, the technical assessors on our assessment teams to foster continuous improvement through their professional interactions during on-site assessments,” asserts Jennifer Evans, the CEO of NATA.

It also supports improvement through the provision of training courses in the international standards that accredited facilities must meet and other initiatives such as workshops and webinar son topics to support ongoing compliance with standards and continuous improvement.

Supporting the Industry and Clients in Critical Time

NATA has always been open to challenges. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic,it took the challenges head-on and transitioned its on-site assessments to ‘remote’ assessments using platforms such as Zoom and Teams while making use of cameras and document sharing platforms. “It was essential for NATA to maintain the rigor of our accreditation processes across all of our activities, not just healthcare-related activities so that stakeholders and consumers could continue to rely on the competence and capability of accredited facilities. The aim was to mirror ‘virtually’ what we would normally do on-site,” affirms Jennifer.

“NATA was able to leverage the goodwill we have with our accredited facilities and most importantly with our technical assessors to enable our processes to continue. NATA is proud of the role we have played in the COVID pandemic providing accreditation services for SARS-CoV-2 testing, accrediting over 160 laboratories and facilities, and accreditation for other laboratories testing PPE and hand sanitizer,” she adds.

Continues To Expand Into New Areas of Accreditation

Moving forward, the company intends to continue seeking to expand into new areas of accreditation. Currently, its newest area of biobanking provides accreditation to facilities complaint with the international standard ISO 20387, that store and manage material and data used in research including medical research.

NATA is also actively working to improve its accreditation processes by leveraging the lessons learned from the pandemic. “It is essential that the process remains contemporary and not unnecessarily burdensome without diminishing rigor and stakeholder confidence. Accreditation will continue to be a risk mitigation tool for regulators and businesses. It provides confidence to users of testing services that they are competent and that the results they issue are reliable and can be used to make informed decisions,” concludes Jennifer.

NATA 75 Anniversary Film (a film produced to celebrate NATA’s 75’s Anniversary)