Professor Tim Noakes at the Health Professions Council of South Africa’s appeal against a not guilty verdict after he posted a tweet four years ago advising a mom to wean her baby on to a low-carb, high-fat diet. 

The Health Professions Council for South Africa maintains its stance that the information provided by Professor Tim Noakes went against the rules and standards of the profession and had a potential for harm.

On the third and last day of representations to the appeals committee, HPCSA's counsel, advocate Ajay Bhoopchand, said their argument from the very beginning had always been that the information provided by Noakes could be harmful as it could possibly be interpreted incorrectly by the public.

Bhoopchand said their submission in formulating the charges against Noakes came from the letter of reply submitted by him, in that Noakes acted as medical professional when tweeting and advising a mother to gradually "wean" her child on to a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet.

The mother tweeted in 2014: “@ProfTimNoakes @SalCreed is LCHF eating ok for breastfeeding mums? Worried about all the dairy + cauliflower = wind for babies??”

Noakes then went on to advise the mother to wean her child on to LCHF foods, which he described as “real” foods.

The response which landed him in trouble read: “Baby doesn’t eat the dairy and cauliflower. Just very healthy high-fat breast milk. Key is to wean baby on to LCHF.”

An independent committee ruled in April 2017 that Noakes was not guilty of misconduct regarding the tweet he posted.

The HPCSA, however, is seeking to overturn the not guilty verdict.

Bhoopchand said the body’s concern was that the message was out there in the public domain and could be misconstrued, with advising people to disregard carbohydrates from their babies' diets completely.

Earlier, Noakes's defence, advocate Michael van der Nest SC, said the independent appeals committee that the statutory body was acting in bad faith by going after Noakes.

Van der Nest said although the previous committee had given a clear judgment that no doctor-patient relationship had been established between Noakes and the mother, the HPCSA had continued to file for an appeal without "good cause".

In his representations to the committee at the HPCSA offices in Pretoria, Van der Nest said the statutory body’s case against Noakes painted a "very poor picture indeed" and what was being heard in the appeal was just the tip of the iceberg.

He said although no contention was made with regard to the body of evidence brought by Noakes on the LCHF diet, they still persisted in persecuting him.

He was of the view that the former committee had also erred in not awarding legal costs in favour of Noakes as there was no basis for the HPCSA to continue prosecuting him when it had failed to prove the establishment of a doctor-patient relationship.

As with any statutory body "if you litigate against a member without good reason or good faith", the law does not limit a cost order award.

The professional conduct committee thus erred in not awarding costs, Van der Nest said.

Bhoopchand, however, maintained that the committee had erred in its initial "not guilty" verdict as Noakes's actions were regarded as being irresponsible and could have caused harm had other social media users taken note of his advice.

The presentations were concluded yesterday and the council is to deliver the judgment at a later stage.