Aug 08

An inspector calls … How to prepare for official inspections

How to prepare for official inspections

The right preparation can take the pain out of inspections

Somehow I’ve ended up being the lead for preparations for four official inspections, all at different organisations. From the General Dental Council, Healthcare Commission, ICO and (gulp) HMRC. They’re never fun, but if anyone comes-a-knockin’, here is what I’ve learnt on how to prepare.



Appoint a lead. This person must have direct and clear access to higher management. No-one likes interrupting their work for this sort of thing, so sometimes someone with a bit of clout needs to remind people that the inspection is a priority.

Know why you are being inspected. Is it:

  1. Routine
  2. Random
  3. There’s been a misfiling/previous inspection problem.

This will help your focus, either on what is expected or where you need to improve.

Are there any organisations you are associated with that can help you?

If so get as much advice as possible. These could be:

  1. Professional bodies
  2. Your accountants
  3. Any third parties or partners involved in the undertaking you are being inspected for.

Dedicate a room from now until the inspection.

If this is impossible, make sure you at least have dedicated storage space, and box and file accordingly as to part 4 below.

Analyse information requirements:

  1. From this, work out the categories of information that need to be available
  2. Work out how often they must be recorded, updated and how they can/should be stored
  3. Work out who needs provide this information
  4. ORGANISE, LIST and LABEL the information so it is easy to access
  5. Make sure that electronic and paper records match
  6. Identify any gaps, and who should have the information to fill them
  7. Provide a clear timetable, based on being ready at least one clear week before inspection deadline
    1. note – from part 2 above, if any vital personnel have any annual leave or essential meetings, add this to the lead time.

Make sure all official accreditation or membership requirements are up-to-date. And check that the listed members are still in the organisation! You don’t want to wait until the day of the inspection to find out that the only person with first aid training left two years ago.

Analyse process requirements

  1. What processes need to be in place
  2. Create printable checklists to ensure all documentation is ready, and all files are complete
  3. Ensure everyone that needs to know is familiar with the checklists and provide them accordingly
  4. Work out whose responsibility it is to update this information on AN ONGOING BASIS
  5. Make sure there is document control – that documents are dated, with a list of when they need to be updated, and organise in calendars as appropriate
  6. Add the information to organisational policy and handbooks where appropriate
  7. Communicate updates to entire team as necessary

Work out what you can do if something is found amiss

  1. Voluntary disclosures
  2. Appeals
  3. Improvements due for next inspection

Finally, communicate with inspecting organisation. If something seems vague, or you are otherwise uncertain about anything, get in touch and ask for guidance. It may seem like weakness, but in fact shows willingness to co-operate and comply to their standards.


Come the day, clear the schedules of everyone who may be asked on for information. They can still carry on with their work, of course, but need to be able to assist at a moment’s notice.

  • Make sure that the inspectors are aware of how you have organised your information.
  • If any further information is requested, make sure there is either a written or electronic record, even if it is just an internal memo/email.
  • Never, ever try to hide anything. Ever. This is there full time job. They’ll spot it. In fact, bring the problems to the fore. Most inspections are not designed to make you suffer, but to make sure you comply. Show eagerness to improve and let them know what improvements you have made already.
  • You will probably get a written record of the inspection, but make sure this is the case before any decisions are made.
  • Oh, make sure you offer them tea and biscuits. Will it help? Probably not, but why risk it!

Ok, so there it is. As always, let us know if you have anything to add, or have had similar experiences.

And if you need help preparing for an inspection, do get in touch! I’ve been through this mill a few times already.

Good luck.


Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net