South African medical practitioners have no fixed social media guidelines, Professor Tim Noakes’ legal team said at a hearing into his conduct on Wednesday.
But, said part-time bioethicist Professor Willie Pienaar, this did not make it sound practice to offer advice via Twitter.
Noakes – whose book The Real Meal Revolution promotes a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet – was called before the council after a complaint was lodged by the former president of the Association for Dietetics in SA, Claire Julsing-Strydom.
The complaint was prompted by a tweet Noakes sent to a Pippa Leenstra after she asked him for advice on feeding babies and on breastfeeding.
Her tweet read: “@ProfTimNoakes @SalCreed is LCHF eating ok for breastfeeding mums? Worried about all the dairy + cauliflower = wind for babies?? [sic]”
Noakes advised her to wean her child onto LCHF foods, which he described as “real” foods.
His tweet read: “Baby doesn’t eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high fat breast milk. Key is to ween [sic] baby onto LCHF.”
He is accused of giving unconventional and unscientific advice, and of unprofessional conduct for dispensing the advice via social media.
According to witnesses called by the HPCSA, a consultation was required before any diagnosis could me made or advice given.
Pienaar argued that other Twitter users may see the information and consider it a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
“Social media is open, that is why we cannot allow this,” he said.
“[Leenstra] could have acted on it.”
Pienaar, who said he was neutral in the argument on whether an LCHF diet was healthy, described Leenstra’s decision not to implement the advice given by Noakes as “wise”.
This, Michael Van der Nest SC for Noakes argued, showed Pienaar’s bias.
“I do think your petticoat did show. You are not an expert witness and should be completely neutral,” he said,
Pienaar backtracked, saying Leenstra “took an autonomous decision to not take it”.
“I am not a scientific expert but just as a clinician, I am still of the opinion that the dietary needs of a baby is specialised information,” Pienaar insisted.
Van der Nest further quoted an article published on Netwerk24, in which Leenstra told the publication that she “doesn’t give a damn” about the hearing.
She declined to give evidence to both parties when approached, Van der Nest read.
“I just laughed when he said [the baby] should start banting,” he translated from the article.
Leenstra had further said she had the common sense not to follow the advice, pointing out that her tweet had just been an innocent question.
The hearing continues.