The Persecution of Professor Noakes continues
Cybershrink continue to explore the unprofessional conduct of the HPCSA / Medical Council
The Health Professions Council, totally unfit for purpouse, continues to act bizarrely and improperly in continuing to harass and attack one of the nicest men in South African medicine, UCT’s Prof Tim Noakes. In my two previous columns (listed below ), I described the absurd way the Council has acted in forcing a prolonged and horrifically expensive trial of this man based on a wholly trivial complaint on silly grounds, in what looks unpleasantly like professional (or unprofessional) jealousy, with some ugly hints that Big Food may be behind the fuss, not liking the good doctor’s views on a healthy diet.
Sentence First: Verdict Afterwards.
Alice in Wonderland lives: in Pretoria. Recently, when the main hearings finished, the Council did one of the most amazingly daft and disgraceful things ever seen in such a situation. They issued an official bulletin announcing to the world that Noakes had been found guilty of unprofessional conduct. The snag was, this was totally untrue : he hadn’t been found guilty of anything at all. It’s hard to understand how anyone at the Council could have been so resoundingly stupid as to seriously issue a false statement of a verdict that hadn’t been reached, in a manner appallingly damaging to a distinguished South African. Though the Council, over an hour later, retracted the statement with a faint apology, why haven’t they identified and sacked the person responsible for this? Did someone act without authorization from the Council’s leaders? Surely the leadership can’t have been so ignorant of the rules they’re well paid to apply, that they didn’t understand their own procedures?
The process still has some way to go, with complex legal arguments and due consideration by the Committee in 2017. In other circumstances, this might have been considered slander, even leading to the Council being sued: one hopes Noakes’ legal team is seriously considering this, to encourage the chaotic Council to learn how to pay proper attention to due process, to behave professionally and to treat people with respect.
Surely nobody who has paid intelligent attention to the proceedings and the evidence could find Prof Noakes guilty of anything at all, other than remarkable patience in the face of profound and consistent silliness.
It isn’t a privilege, but the absolute duty of any professor to profess: to know their field and clearly express their views to the public. No-one should ever be victimized for doing so.
Summarizing very briefly, Noakes, author of best-selling books about the Banting diet, tends to tweet rather a lot, and a long while ago received a question by tweet, from a woman asking about weaning a baby; and suggested a Banting type approach.
Promptly, a little known woman, then leader of a group of dieticians, the Association for Dietetics in SA (ADSA), grew furious and made a formal complaint to the Council, insisting that he shouldn’t have given such nutritional advice, and that it was unscientific (though there is an enormous body of scientific research supporting his views). More peculiarly, it was reported that she contacted the woman concerned, telling her to ignore the professor’s advice and, much worse, suggesting the woman should contact her for further advice, providing contact details. This would be a specific offense against professional codes of conduct. Yet the Council has totally ignored the issue of this definite breach of their rules of professional conduct, and has instead in an ugly and disorganized way, pursued a nasty case against the professor.
My earlier columns (links below) outlined the remarkable foolishness of the process thus far.
Late in the recent meetings, something very odd seemed to happen. It seemed as though those responsible for starting this whole sorry mess, seem to be trying to obscure their role, though previously admitted. When Noakes’ advocate introduced a letter it seemed to greatly upset the HPCSA lawyers who struggled to prevent it from getting into evidence.
Noakes lawyer Adam Pike wrote to the ADSA recently asking for clarification: does the ADSA accept that the dietician lodged a complaint against the professor; whether she (a past president of ADSA) had obtained it’s authority to lodge the complaint; and did ADSA fully support the HPCSA’s continuing prosecution of the complaint. They didn’t reply.
The question was relevant, because this October the current executive of ADSA told its members the Council was “investigating a query “ (something it actually doesn’t do), and that their former Chair had simply “sought clarity from the HPCSA on the use of social media as a professional medium by health practitioners” and “did not call for a hearing”. This doesn’t match the available facts, and contradicts her own evidence to the inquiry.
She wrote a complaint to the council, not a query. She used her personal address, and didn’t say she was acting on behalf of ADSA. She said, for instance “I urge the HPCSA to please take urgent action against this type of misconduct”. And claimed that his advice was “dangerous” and “can potentially be life threatening” though there’s no good evidence that this is so. The Council eventually wrote to tell Noakes she had complained (not that she had raised a query) and a year later said the complainant was ADSA.
It seems the ADSA and the Council want to avoid answering questions about this, claiming, ridiculously, that this is “sub judice”, when no judge is involved, and even if there were, there’d be nothing wrong with revealing the identity of the complainant. The HPCSA advocate tried so hard and so often to keep this letter from the proceedings, remarkably calling it “highly prejudicial” to the Council, he made it obvious there must be something very important about this. What is it he seemed so desperate to avoid? Fortunately, the sensible Chairman of the Inquiry allowed the letter into evidence, and he hope this will be fully explored.
It’s very hard to get the Council to answer a query, let alone to spend vast amounts of public money investigating one. I can testify that even serious complaints are often ignored completely.
If the complaint is dismissed with the contempt it deserves, who will pay the enormous costs of Noakes’ defense? What if he, understandably, sues the Council and complainants?
There are reports that the responsible dietitian was advised not to attend much of the hearing. If so: why? If she changed her mind and wanted her complaint to be considered a query: why did the process continue?
Is the Dept. of Healthy concerned that their new “prudent diet” may be scientifically wrong? There have been many rumours that Big Food, major companies profiting from the bad old advice the Banting Diet contradicts, may have been behind this process. Is there any basis for this? If so, what should be done about it?
And Marika Sboros in her excellent reporting in FoodMed.Net