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COMMENT: Noakes inquiry gives us much to chew on

The last thing ithe HPCSA needed was a clumsy, bruising and unnecessary battle with a media celebrity, writes Mike Wills.

Has there ever been a more tangled web woven than the Health Professions Council of South Africa’s (HPCSA) inquiry into Professor Tim Noakes?

This befuddling process has already run for two-and-a-half years and “judgment” is only expected in April next year. All of this to investigate a tweet in which Noakes gave advice about Banting for a baby.

To cap off this laborious investigation into 140 characters of alleged professional misconduct, the HPCSA released an erroneous media statement pronouncing Noakes “guilty”. That, in itself, is probably a far greater act of professional misconduct than anything Noakes might’ve done.

Almost alone in the chattering classes, I have no great interest in the Banting debate. I’m happy for others to use the low carb/high fat diet, on conditions: they don’t inflict the details on me; they don’t try to convert me to the cause; they acknowledge there might be other routes to balanced nutritional health; and, if Banters are going to be ranters about the big business conspiracy lined up against them, they should also check out what a big business paleo/Banting has become and recognise there are vested interests in restaurants, books, magazines, products, careers and egos on all sides.

My view on Noakes has long been that he’s a respected, intelligent, passionate, articulate and bold scientist whose primary motivations are to improve lives and challenge convention. His ideas always warrant considered attention. Those whose opinions he takes on should be stimulated by him rather than provoked.

However, Noakes does tend to the dramatic and the dogmatic, and he and his followers (or should I call them disciples?) must also accept more gracefully that he will, in turn, be challenged by others. This is a contested, fluid space.

Off that relatively neutral platform, I’m bewildered Noakes has ended up under such lengthy attack.

What the HPCSA should’ve done, way back in April 2014, was to immediately bat away the personal charge laid by a dietitian against Noakes as a time-wasting distraction. Then they could have set out to properly examine the important issues that lay beneath that complaint.

Ideally, this extensive inquiry would not have been set up as a kind of court, but rather as a way of establishing whether the current official dietary guidelines stand up to scrutiny in terms of the latest opinion and also to set relevant new rules on using social media (and video technology) to give medical advice without the current strict requirement of a personal consultation.

This would’ve shifted the thing away from the ludicrously out-of-scale threat to Noakes and allowed for a more considered discussion.

It also would have spared the HPCSA another battering. The council has been mired in controversy and inefficiency. Its reputation stinks within the professions it regulates. The last thing it needed was a clumsy, bruising and unnecessary battle with a media celebrity.

Source: The Argus

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