I have been involved with UKAS and formerly the Clinical Pathology Accreditation (CPA) for a large part of my career and have previously been responsible for running regional diagnostic services that have been involved in accreditation of laboratories to ISO 15189.
Perhaps understandably, UKAS assessments were not always looked forward to, by the workforce, with great relish, due to the volume of work involved and the perception that the Assessment Managers were there to find fault. However, I quickly recognised that a step-change was necessary in order to embed UKAS standard quality assurance into everything that we did as an organisation.
The UKAS assessment process encouraged us to explore everything with the question ‘what can we do better?’ Soon we viewed assessments as a valuable opportunity for continuous quality improvement, rather than a dreaded chore.
The Assessment Managers we saw clearly enjoyed being part of this process and witnessing the year-on-year changes that we made through constantly striving to innovate and enhance our levels of service. In approaching the assessment day as though it was any other day, in the knowledge that we were working to the highest quality standards, the staff became more confident and much more relaxed when the actual assessment day came around.
I also found that the accreditation process and the interaction with UKAS Assessment Managers often provided a learning opportunity as we were able to discover new successful methods and practices employed by other accredited laboratories as well as an opportunity to hear about emerging technologies deployed elsewhere.
Having experienced first-hand how well accreditation can drive quality in healthcare, I was happy to participate as a national adviser for NHS England when additional accreditation was developed in diagnostic services, such as the MPACE scheme.
The recent impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the need for accreditation in order to deliver confidence and consistency in test results, and the only way to guarantee this in an ever-changing environment is through the constantly questioning approach. This continual audit approach will inevitably reveal non-conformities; however these non-conformities can often provide opportunities for improvement, enable correctional measures to be deployed that protect quality and allow us to course-correct before errors turn into costly failures, or worse, harm to patients.
As labs are stress-tested by unprecedented demand, staff shortages and constantly evolving tests, the Quality Management System becomes more important than ever. Working in accordance with the QMS provides assurance to staff and the organisations they work in that they are doing the right thing, and impartial independent assessment allows them to demonstrate this to the rest of the world.