The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital


21 Sep 2022

50-years of continuous accreditation: MDU PHL & NATA

The Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory (MDU PHL), located within the Doherty Institute, has recently marked 50-years of uninterrupted accreditation with the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA).

NATA are Australia’s leading national accreditation body, recognised by government to assess organisations against numerous international standards for laboratories, inspection bodies, proficiency testing scheme providers and reference material producers.

MDU PHL is Australia’s longest-serving public health laboratory, undertaking reference microbiology testing for notifiable pathogens and organisms of public health significance. This includes the surveillance of food environmental and waterborne diseases, antimicrobial resistance, invasive bacterial pathogens, and sexually transmitted infections.

The first iteration of the MDU PHL was established in 1897 when a need was identified for a specialist laboratory in Victoria to carry out bacteriological examinations. Moving forward to the late 1960s, an increasing number of foodborne outbreaks and corresponding public scrutiny lead to the Laboratory Director making the decision to opt into a peer-reviewed program to ensure the laboratory was operating to the highest standards.

NATA accreditation for food and water testing was achieved in 1972, over time extending into other areas such as Medical (Human Pathology in 1991), Veterinary (Animal Health in 2009) and a Forensic Operations Module (FOM in 2005). 

In fact, MDU PHL was one of the first laboratories nationally to be accredited for the Forensic Operations Module, with this ensuring the laboratory processes would stand up to legal scrutiny. A public health investigation class of testing was added to the scope in 2008, and significantly MDU PHL became one of the first labs in Australia to incorporate Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) to all fields of testing in 2018 in addition to being the first to have a mobile testing lab accredited as part of the pandemic response (2021).

NATA accreditation has allowed MDU PHL to provide a One Health approach, a concept recognising that human health is intimately linked to the health of animals and the environment, to public health testing in the state of Victoria. The robust, peer-reviewed system further allows those utilising the services of the laboratory to know that standards are maintained to the highest level, ensuring that MDU PHL can achieve its mission and strengthen public health surveillance and response.

“This is a great milestone in MDU PHL’s history, as it reflects the sustained commitment of the organisation to provide the highest quality public health laboratory services to enhance the control of infectious diseases in Australia,” said University of Melbourne Professor Ben Howden, Director of MDU PHL at the Doherty Institute.