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Being in Control

For many years the UK National External Quality Assurance Service (UKNEQAS) has been developing world-leading methods of ensuring that pathology results obtained in Cornwall are the same as those found in the Highlands of Scotland. Behind UKNEQAS is a raft or organisation which includes professional bodies and which ensures that any (rare) case of inadequate performance is put right. Professional organisations have followed the lead of UKNEQAS and have published detailed methodological reviews to aid the working scientist and pathologist.

UKNEQAS, though, is much more than proficiency testing; the organisers of the various schemes are skilled and knowledgeable people who spend much time and effort in helping laboratories which may have problems, in devising suitable ways of testing methods as well as laboratories for adequate performance, and in helping commercial suppliers to make products available which are scientifically sound.

Testing is not now confined to the laboratory. There are many circumstances in which testing is extra-laboratory, from ITUs and CCUs in hospitals, to testing for allergy and allergens, C-Reactive Protein (equivalent of ESR), or Helicobacter pylori in the doctor's surgery. While there are many excellent reasons why near patient testing is effective and worthwhile, those reasons only stand up where tests deliver the correct result. External Quality Assurance is one way of providing a high degree of comfort that such is the case.

UKNEQAS has yet to consider near patient testing and all the implications that widespread uptake would entail. The services presently offered are wide-ranging, and Bandolier this month publishes a full list of the schemes extant, their costs, and the names and contact numbers of their organisers on the Figure.

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Laboratories performing any of these tests but not NEQAS members should rectify that.

Purchasers should ensure that laboratory services they buy are from laboratories which perform at least adequately in external quality assurance schemes.

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