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Majority of Jamaica’s medical labs still not accredited

Published:Thursday | August 24, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
In this 2013 file photo, officials of Biomedical Caledonia Medical Laboratory (from left) Director Lester Woolery, Chairman Dr Donald Christian, and Managing Director Barbara Hendriks accept a certificate as it became the first lab in Jamaica to be accredited by JANAAC.

CEO of the Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation (JANAAC), Sharonmae Shirley, is expressing concern about the number of medical laboratories operating across the island without being accredited.

But the Ministry of Health is displaying no such concern as it says it ensures that labs are up to standard through routine inspections.

Shirley has charged that there is no way to determine the quality of the work being done at most of these labs which are not accredited. She said to date, only four of the country's medical laboratories have been accredited to offer any type of service.

According to Shirley, the four accredited laboratories are the Biomedical Caledonia Lab, the Microlabs Medical Laboratory on Melmac Avenue, the National Public Health Lab (NPHL), and the Micobiology Department at the University of the West Indies that services the University Hospital of the West Indies.

"We have a number of labs operating and they are not operating to the requisite standards, and so persons should be very cautious when they use these laboratories to provide them with diagnostic support for their health. You cannot be fully confident in the results that you are getting, and so we encourage Jamaicans to try to use one of the accredited labs," said Shirley.

"You are told maybe that you have a clean bill of health when it is the opposite, or that you have a particular illness when you don't have it," added Shirley.




But responding to these concerns, the health ministry told The Sunday Gleaner that it has two departments, the National Public Health Laboratory and Standards and Regulations Division, which conduct inspections of medical laboratories.

The ministry said new labs are inspected upon request and there is an ongoing assessment programme for public-sector laboratories. Currently, Jamaica has 46 private labs, 52 public ones and the NPHL.

"It is the intention to have at least three public laboratories inspected each quarter. Currently, the National Public Health laboratory has a one-member quality department. However, due to limited human resources we are behind. We are trying to increase our cadre of internal auditors through training," said the health ministry in an emailed response to questions from our news team.

Shirley had told our news team that the owners of these laboratories have been complacent in becoming accredited because accreditation is not mandatory. This continues despite pressure from CARICOM for Jamaica to remedy this.

The matter was raised in 2012 by the regional body after startling information was shared about the quality of medical laboratories in the Caribbean.

CARICOM had argued that accreditation is important, given the fact that medical doctors depended on laboratory results to make critical decisions for the most part.

"The pressure is still on," said Shirley.

"I will tell you that a number of the regional labs are seeking accreditation from JANAAC," she noted.

In 2015, Jamaica became a signatory to the International Laboratory Accreditation Corporation Mutual Recognition Arrangement for the ISO15189 Standard, which is a medical standard that governs laboratories.

As such, labs accredited by JANAAC are deemed to meet international standards.

"The inspections performed by the Ministry of Health would not be comparable to the accreditation processes that a lab that is accredited has to undertake. Inspections and laboratory analyses are different, and where an inspection body includes analytical tests in their scope these tests would have to be accredited," said Shirley.

"For accreditation, we don't just check the management systems in the organisation, but we actually assess the competence of the persons who are performing the test. So by the end of the day when a lab is awarded an accreditation certificate, we are confident that its practices ... are in keeping with international requirements," said Shirley.