Understanding NATA assessments and how to best respond to your report

NATA assessment reports

Your NATA assessment report has just arrived – and it’s a lot. Nothing seems to make sense. Nothing seems to have context. You have no idea where to begin.

So, what do you do when you can’t work out how to reply to a NATA finding? Let’s take the guesswork out of understanding NATA assessments and how to best respond to the reports.

There’s an art to understanding NATA assessments – with good reason

You’ve read the findings in your NATA assessment report and are left wondering:

  • WHY are they talking about this particular point?
  • WHAT exactly was the problem?
  • WHO were they speaking with when they came to this conclusion?
  • HOW can I do a root cause analysis on this finding?

Sound familiar?

You’re not alone – it happens to all of us at some point.

Which begs the question: why does it sometimes seem as though no one has reviewed the report? Well, that’s because many NATA staff are authorised to send assessment reports without anyone else checking them. So don’t assume that an assessment report has full backing of the NATA hierarchy – even though it appears to be signed by the CEO.

There are four main traps that NATA staff can fall into when writing assessment findings. I can even speak from experience, thanks to the years I worked for NATA. And in most cases, these four traps boil down to failing to include the specific details of what the assessment team saw.

Which is why we need to backtrack a little.

You have to understand what happened before you can understand why it happened (root cause analysis).
Once you do understand you can use this guide to help you develop a meaningful root cause analysis.

1.  The NATA finding is a suggestion for what you should do

In other words, it doesn’t contain any specific details on what was actually wrong.

The finding might read something like this:

“The laboratory must add a column for date finished to the reagent log.”

The next section of NATA’s form is a root cause analysis. But, of course, you cannot do a root cause analysis on a mere suggestion!

You first have to understand what happened before you can understand why it happened.

Action to take:

Contact NATA and ask for the details of the issue they saw and specifically HOW it did not meet the requirements.

2.  The NATA finding contains a statement of fact that is incorrect

We’re all human. So it’s to be expected that the assessment team will get the wrong end of the stick during an assessment at times.

Communication failures can arise from

  • Speaking to the wrong person
  • Using terminology in different ways
  • Accepting a spoken answer as evidence
  • Assumptions being made
  • Language barriers between assessors and staff

Although inconvenient, this doesn’t mean your NATA accreditation is in jeopardy.

Action to take:

Investigate the statement thoroughly and provide evidence that the finding is incorrect. Don’t simply argue the case – show them.

3.  The NATA finding simply restates the clause from [insert name of standard here]

In other words, there’s no context. No information about what the assessment team looked at or which aspect of the requirement you’re not meeting.

While this issue rarely occurs, it can be hard to detect unless you’re very familiar with the wording of the standards NATA uses to accredit your lab. A good reason to have someone experienced with NATA requirements look over your findings.

Action to take:

Ask for more information on the finding. What specifically is wrong? Get evidence of what the assessment team found so you can act on it.

4.  The references given in the NATA finding don’t relate to the details of the finding

This happens when the NATA assessor thinks (or knows) there’s a requirement somewhere for the issue they’ve found, but they can’t find the correct reference.

In reality, many labs don’t even notice this.

But when it comes to understanding what NATA expects you to fix and planning corrective action, it’s beneficial to go back and check what the NATA standards actually say. This is when you may notice the clauses referenced don’t help you understand the problem.

PRO TIP: By checking the standards, you can understand the intent of the requirement and avoid what’s known as “Creeping Criteria”.

Action to take:

Ask for clarification. Can the assessor point out the specific part of the clause that your laboratory is not complying with?

The bottom line

Most importantly, don’t let a NATA report take up too much of your time on actions of no value to you.

The last thing you want is to get into a cycle of correspondence going back and forth when communication issues were the initial cause! It’s not helpful, and you might end up feeling trapped in an argument when all you really want is a bit more information – some clarity.

So, rather than stewing over the findings and feeling overwhelmed or sending a frustrated email, get on the phone with your NATA lead auditor to discuss these issues.

Once you have the information you need, you can move on to the root cause analysis!

Want some qualified help?

If you’re struggling to understand your NATA assessment, or the idea of responding to the findings is weighing you down, we can help.

Our combined experience with NATA requirements and reports makes the whole process a breeze so you can focus on what you do best.

Get in touch today.