The Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) will likely not be forgotten for erroneously reporting that Professor Tim Noakes had been found guilty of professional misconduct. But what will happen to him if he is in fact found guilty?
The University of Cape Town emeritus professor was hauled before the HPCSA's professional conduct committee on an accusation of giving unconventional advice on social media.
This relates to a 2014 tweet in which a woman wanted to know if the Banting lifestyle was appropriate for her as a breastfeeding mother. Noakes recommended that she wean her child onto low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) foods, which he described as "real foods".
"By implication I was saying that the child should not be weaned onto the traditional high sugar, high carbohydrate processed cereals," Noakes told Health24 at the time.
The tweet was then reported to the HPCSA by Claire Julsing-Strydom, who was at the time the president of the Association for Dietitics in South Africa.
The hearing, which was supposed to have started in June 2015, was postponed to November over problems relating to constituting the panel properly according to legal requirements.
During the hearing, Noakes called on international witnesses in defence of his case, and he maintained that there was nothing harmful about the Banting lifestyle. This despite critics arguing there isn't enough clinical evidence to prove that a LCHF diet approach is beneficial for adults and children in the long-term.
HPCSA makes a bungle
The hearing was adjourned in October 2016 for heads of argument to be filed in February and March next year. Judgment is expected in April.
In an unusual move, the head of the professional conduct committee, advocate Joan Adams, distanced herself from the blunder. Noakes legal team responded that they would consider taking action over the statement.
If Noakes is found guilty the committee will then impose an appropriate penalty after listening to mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
"Section 42 of the HPCS act provides for the penalties that may be imposed. It depends entirely on the committee which one to impose," explained the HPCSA to Health24 ahead of the hearings.
The penalties are:
- A caution or a reprimand, or both
- A prescribed fine
- Suspension for a specified period from practising his/her profession
- Removal of his/her name from the relevant register
- A compulsory period of professional service; or
- Payment of the costs of the proceedings or restitution or both.
"If the committee finds the practitioner not guilty, no penalty is imposed and the matter is regarded as finalised."