Unannounced Audits: When will your Notified Body’s next audit be?
The author reviews details of the European Commission’s recommendations for medical device auditing by Notified Bodies–including unannounced audits, joint audits of Notified Bodies, and the likelihood of Notified Body mergers.
On September 25, I posted a blog about the release of the EU Commission’s recommendation on medical device audits and assessments performed by Notified Bodies (http://bit.ly/ENVIVotepasses). You can download the final released version of the recommendation directly from the Official Journal of the European Union (http://bit.ly/ECRecommendation). The most talked-about component of the recommendation is Annex III, which is specific to unannounced audits. I had the pleasure of being invited and attended a TUV SUD.
Training session two weeks ago in Boston (post-RAPS). Hans Heiner Junker (http://bit.ly/Hans-Heiner-Junker) reviewed the recommendation with attendees line-by-line, and there were several items where he said we don’t know what this means, or how this would be implemented. Notified Bodies that are part of Team-NB have met to discuss the interpretation of earlier drafts of the announcement, and each member state is expected to adopt the EC recommendation. For more details about the Team-NB position on the EC recommendation, you can download an article written by Gert Bos of BSI (http://bit.ly/UnannouncedAuditPrep).
Below are the more notable aspects of the EC recommendation.
Annex II – Quality System Assessment
#15 in the list states that “Notified bodies should check the coherence between the quantity of produced or purchased crucial raw material or components approved for the design and the number of finished products.” This recommendation is a direct response to the PIP scandal (http://bit.ly/MHRAReport), but how would an auditor perform a physical inventory during a quality system audit?
At the end of Annex II, the Commission makes recommendations regarding subcontractors. It states that “Notified bodies should refrain from signing arrangements with manufacturers unless they receive access to all critical subcontractors and crucial suppliers and thus to all sites where the devices or its crucial components are produced, regardless of the length of the contractual chain between the manufacturer and the subcontractor or supplier.” Does your supplier quality agreement have this provision?
If you think the above recommendation is unreasonable, items a, b, c, and d at the end of the section, stretch credibility to the limit. My personal favorite is item (b), “Notified bodies should note that manufacturers…do not fulfill their obligation to have at their disposal the full technical documentation and/or of a quality system by referring to the technical documentation of a subcontractor or supplier and/or to their quality system.” If your supplier has confidential processes and trade secrets, your company has no choice but to reference the subcontractor’s documentation. Therefore the requirement to have full technical documentation will need to be addressed by the use of supplier agreements, which allow Notified Bodies access to the Technical Documentation. This requirement will also need to be clarified by the Commission.
Annex III – Unannounced Audit
#1 in the list recommends that unannounced audits shall be conducted once every three years, and more frequently for high-risk devices. The recommendation also states that at least two auditors shall conduct the audits. This represents a 25-50% increase in the number of QMS audit days in a three-year certification cycle. I wonder where Notified Bodies will find 25-50% more auditors to perform these unannounced audits?
This annex includes a requirement that Notified Body contracts with manufacturers would require the manufacturer to inform the Notified Body of the period when devices will not be manufactured. The rationale behind this requirement is so that Notified Bodies will know when they can visit and observe manufacturing actually in progress. However, most Notified Body auditors are scheduled for their audits at least 90 days in advance. Therefore, auditors will have great difficulty ensuring that unannounced audits coincide with the timing of manufacturing lots.
The recommendations also call for unannounced audits of critical suppliers. How will Notified Bodies find the resources to perform these audits when there is already a shortage of qualified auditors?
Notified Body Consolidation is Coming Soon
You may have noticed Notified Bodies are already making a few changes to address the need for qualified auditors:
- Unhappy auditors are being lured away from one Notified Body by another
- Notified Bodies are using recruiters and advertising open positions with high pay
- Sub-contractors are being offered part-time jobs as 3rd party auditors
The compromise amendment 44a to the proposed European Medical Device Regulations (http://bit.ly/EMDR-Frankenstein), creates a new class of Notified Body—the “Special Notified Body” (SNB). This will eliminate the most profitable business for any Notified Body that is not deemed “Special.” This may create an opportunity for larger SNBs to hire the key employees away from smaller Notified Bodies more rapidly.
Competent Authorities have also started performing joint inspections of Notified Bodies this year as a pilot program. There were 11 joint audits performed earlier this year, and eight more are scheduled for the remainder of 2013. As a result of these audits, two Notified Bodies are no longer able to issue new certificates until issues are resolved. This will increase the pressure further for smaller Notified Bodies to merge with larger SNBs.
Will the EC Commission Achieve its Goal?
The EC Commission began pushing for the unannounced audits and increased scrutiny of Notified Bodies in response to the Poly Implant Prosthèse (PIP) breast implants scandal (http://bit.ly/MHRAReport). This was a case of fraud—not neglectful auditing. Some of the solutions proposed by the EC Commission, such as unannounced audits and performing physical inventories, are intended to prevent fraud. In 2014 we will see if these methods are effective. Still, I suspect auditors will remain a step or two behind companies committing fraud, and the only impact will be higher operating costs for medical device manufacturers.
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