Tim Noakes cleared of misconduct after drawn-out legal case
"Banting" guru, Tim Noakes, has been cleared of misconduct after he tweeted a response about whether a breast-feeding mother should continue using the Banting diet, in which he said that babies should be weaned onto the diet. Advocate Joan Adams‚ the chairman of an independent panel that considered a misconduct charge brought against Noakes by the Health Professions Council of SA (HSPCA)‚ announced the verdict in Cape Town on Friday after reading a 60-page judgment.
She said four of the five panel members were party to the judgment. The other member disagreed with the outcome.
Noakes‚ whose book The Real Meal Revolution promotes a low-carbohydrate‚ high-fat (LCHF) or Banting diet‚ was called before the HPCSA after the former president of the Association for Dietetics in SA‚ Claire Julsing Strydom‚ lodged a complaint against him.
It was prompted by a tweet that Noakes sent to Pippa Leenstra in February 2014 after she asked for his opinion about the diet when breast-feeding. Noakes has been registered with the HPCSA since 1974‚ but has not practised clinically since 2000.
Leenstra’s tweet said: "@ProfTimNoakes @SalCreed is LCHF eating ok for breast-feeding mums? Worried about all the dairy+cauliflower = wind for babies??"
Noakes replied: "Baby doesn’t eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high-fat breast milk. Key is to ween [sic] baby onto LCHF."
In her finding‚ Adams said Noakes’s Twitter account‚ which has 86‚000 followers‚ did not describe him as a registered doctor or suggest he acted as such. There was no evidence that Leenstra considered him her doctor and there was no way to infer Leenstra was hoping for a free medical consultation.
Leenstra did not testify in the misconduct hearing‚ but Adams said it was clear she would not have been tweeting if her baby was in need of medical treatment or advice and she required urgent assistance from a practitioner. It could not be assumed that Twitter users were ignorant and vulnerable and needed to be protected from themselves‚ she said.
Adams said the panel agreed with the complaint that Twitter did not lend itself to a doctor-patient relationship‚ but that was not what Leenstra was looking for. It was not reasonable to infer from Noakes’s tweet that he was undermining breast milk; there was nothing suggesting that he advocated immediate cessation of breast-feeding.
In May 2014‚ the HPCSA preliminary committee of inquiry met for two days to decide what to do about Julsing Strydom’s complaint and failed to reach a conclusion.
The following month‚ the committee commissioned a report from retired Northwest University nutrition professor Esté Vorster. She said because Noakes’s advice contravened the SA dietary guidelines‚ he was either unfamiliar with them or distrusted them‚ and therefore was not qualified to advise on dietary matters.
The hearing into Noakes’s alleged misconduct began in November 2015.