An orthopaedic surgeon under investigation for encouraging his patients to ditch processed foods says the case calls into question who is qualified to give nutritional advice.
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency has been investigating Dr Gary Fettke for more than two years following an anonymous complaint to the body.
He was recently advised to stop providing advice on nutrition and its relation to the management of diabetes and treatment or prevention of cancer.
“The claim is that I’m not to give nutritional advice and the argument is I’m working outside my scope of practice (as an orthopaedic surgeon), and I’d argue I’m not because a third of my patients are diabetics,” Dr Fettke said on Monday.
“To be questioned and challenged on whether or not I can provide nutritional advice is abhorrent because if I can’t give advice with MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) before my name then no doctor in Australia can do it either.”
An AHPRA spokeswoman said the body was unable to comment on individual cases: “This to protect the integrity of processes if they are underway and any current or future action we may take.”
Dr Fettke co-owns Nutrition for Life centres in Launceston and Hobart and has long been an advocate for a diet low in fructose and carbohydrates and high in healthy fats.
He described the nutrition industry as an “intricate web” of vested interests, arguing the Dietitians Association of Australia was tied up with the food industry, diabetes educators linked with pharmaceutical companies and supplements providers often without experience.
“I don’t think there’s anyone fully qualified to give nutrition education,” he said.
“This is potentially a landmark situation and that’s why we’re challenging it.”
Dr Fettke said he had received an outpouring of support since his wife took to social media on Saturday.
Tasmanian Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson came to Dr Fettke’s defence. The party proposed a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks ahead of the July election.
“I will follow the detail of this case closely as I’m concerned with the precedent this might set if healthcare professionals feel they cannot speak or advise on issues that relate directly to areas of their expertise,” he said.
“I am concerned this may ultimately lead to his resignation from the Launceston General Hospital. We cannot afford to lose more specialists.”
Dietitians Association of Australia spokeswoman Claire Collins said: “Accredited practicing dietitians are nutrition scientists with a minimum of four years of university study behind them.
“They provide evidence-based nutrition advice and support, or Medical Nutrition Therapy, which is tailored to an individual - and often needs to take into account complex health conditions. APDs undertake ongoing training and development, in line with DAA professional standards, to ensure they are up-to-date. These professional standards match the requirements of AHPRA.”