Storm in a test tube

What follows below is my original editorial column for the Laboratorytalk weekly newsletter, 30 March 2011. It was deemed too controversial to use.

A rare squabble between testing laboratories has been filling up my inbox this week, after an investigation by a UK newspaper showed that one lab may have been inflating its qualifications.

The Times newspaper article said that Trimega Laboratories, which specialises in detecting drug and alcohol use by testing hair samples for fatty acid ethyl esters, misled clients into believing that it had full ISO 17025 accreditation when it does not. The Trimega website has since sported a number of explanations of its various accreditations.

These include ISO 9001 accreditation, which covers quality management systems, and ISO 14001 for environmental management. The company also tells visitors about its Investor In People award (a personnel management thing) and its charter membership of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, which is a social initiative aimed at teenagers. Finally, and at last significantly, we learn that its German partner company Trimega Drogencheck is accredited to ISO 17025, which covers competence of testing and calibration laboratories, and that the UK lab “operates to ISO 17025 standards”. Trimega also says that its UK operation is being audited and expects its own accreditation “very soon”.

Meanwhile, rival testing company Alpha Biolabs has stepped into the fray. Its managing director David Thomas said: “These false claims mislead the courts that rely on competent laboratories to produce results they can use to deliver justice…We’ve worked solidly for four years to achieve our accreditation from UKAS and the Ministry of Justice.” The company says that court cases may be “jeopardised by rogue testers posing as officially accredited laboratories”.

Trimega’s response is that the Ministry of Justice does not actually require hair testing labs to be accredited.

The whole thing might seem a little like the sort of spat seen on television shows like the Jerry Springer Show in the USA. If so, it is perhaps no coincidence: Alpha Biolabs has the contract to carry out the paternity tests which have become such an integral part of the Jeremy Kyle Show, the UK equivalent of Springer.