Noakes to take action against HPCSA over ‘guilty’ blunder

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Professor Tim Noakes will take action against the Health Professionals Council of South Africa, following an embarrassing public relations bungle in which they declared him guilty of misconduct before the hearing had been completed.

A Health24 report notes that it is not the first time that the HPCSA, which is charged with maintaining excellent standards of ethical and professional practice, is mired in controversy.

In what can be described as one of the most closely watched HPCSA hearings yet, Noakes appeared before the council’s professional conduct committee over an alleged case of unprofessional conduct. This was after he advised a mother on Twitter to wean her child on foods low in carbohydrates and high in fat (LCHF) to bring the child in line with the Banting approach.

However, even before the case was fully wrapped up, the HPCSA media team issued a press release in October stating that Noakes was guilty of unprofessional conduct. The council moved quickly to retract the statement and apologised to Noakes over the incident, but he isn’t taking it lightly.

“We have consulted and have resolved to take action,” the report quotes Noakes’ lawyer Adam Pike as saying. “The timing and the nature of the action is still the subject matter of discussions,” he explained.

Alarmingly, the HPCSA has not been in touch with Noakes or his legal team to explain how the mistake occurred. The report says after trying to contact the council, and after being stalled for 10 days, was informed that they were not prepared to comment on the matter. When asked if the press mistake may cast doubt over the hearing process, Pike said it is important to distinguish the HPCSA from the team hearing the charge.

“One should bear in mind that the professional conduct committee is composed of practitioners and members of the public who are not employees or officers of the HPCSA. They are independent of the HPCSA. For that reason, the actions of the HPCSA should not be understood to emanate from the professional conduct committee.”

In fact, the report says, realising the seriousness of the HPCSA’s media error, the head of the professional conduct committee, advocate Joan Adams, quickly distanced herself from the statement. “We are of the firm view that the members of the committee are individuals of integrity,” said Pike. “We are confident that they will discharge their adjudicative duties independently, in good faith and in a dispassionate manner.”

He, however, did not have the same positive opinion of the HPCSA, which has for years been dogged by several complaints. “Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the conduct of the HPCSA. The fact that it saw fit to even prepare a press release to the effect that Prof Noakes is guilty is disturbing.”

The report says if Noakes is found guilty of unprofessional conduct the committee will impose an appropriate penalty after listening to mitigating and aggravating circumstances. If the committee finds Noakes not guilty, the matter will be regarded as finalised.

Judgment on the matter is expected to be made on 21 April, 2017.

Health24 report

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