By Marika Sboros
Australian orthopaedic surgeon Dr Gary Fettke is a free and vindicated man. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has dropped all charges against him.
In a letter to Fettke, AHPRA clears him of any wrongdoing or misconduct in a case that has dragged on for more than four years. The Agency has also apologised for its actions against him.
Those actions include slapping a lifetime ban on him in 2016 from speaking to patients about nutrition. Not just any nutrition but his advocacy for low-carb, healthy-fat (LCHF) therapies.
The ban falls away – although Fettke had ignored it anyway.
He and wife Belinda announced AHPRA’s ruling in a jubilant post on their #ISupportGary website. Click here to read it in full.
Fettke told me immediately after receiving AHPRA’s letter that his first reaction was tears of intense relief. His wife had become his public “voice” after AHPRA tried to silence him. The couple has spoken of the personal and professional toll the case has taken on him and his family.
“It is a huge relief after years of being treated as if I was doing something wrong,” Fettke said.
His patients were also told that his recommendations were dangerous and his advice would kill them.
Fettke has called for heads to roll. The case was the result of vexatious complaints, he said. AHPRA’s notoriously secretive complaints and prejudicial investigation processes have been aggravating factors.
APHRA held all its hearings against him in secret and did not allow Fettke to attend and defend himself. AHPRA also refused to reveal any evidence against him. Legal experts have described AHPRA’s actions against him as a “kangaroo court“.
No harm done, no patient complained
His comprehensive exoneration is likely to reignite the debate about the influence of “medical evangelism” on official dietary guidelines. Research by Fettke and his wife has exposed the role of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church worldwide.
His case is also likely to put the spotlight back on the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) and its food-industry links.
The case arose in 2014 after the first of three anonymous DAA dietitians lodged complaints against Fettke with AHPRA. Chief among the complaints was that he advised LCHF diets to patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The dietitians claimed that LCHF was “inappropriate” advice and not evidence-based. They also claimed that LCHF was “inconsistent” with Australia’s dietary guidelines and the National Heart Foundation position statement on dietary fats.
A Senate Inquiry in 2016 brought AHPRA’s actions against Fettke under special scrutiny. At the Inquiry, Fettke also spoke movingly about intimidation and bullying he experienced at the hands of the medical establishment.
The Senate Inquiry put AHPRA under notice and suggested that Fettke refer his case to the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman and Privacy Commissioner. The Obudsman saw process issues and referred the case back to the Medical Board for reconsideration in June 2018.
No ‘significant risk apparent’
It is significant, Fettke said, that no patient had lodged a complaint against him. In the letter to Fettke, APRHA acknowledged that no harm came to patients from his dietary advice. The Agency also acknowledged that there is no “significant risk apparent” in LCHF as a dietary option.
The letter states:
“… no significant risks to public safety have been identified that require a regulatory response under the National Law. In the case of each of the three issues considered, there is no evidence of any actual harm and nor does (AHPRA’s Medical) Board discern any particular risk to public health and safety moving forward.
“For these reasons, the Board has decided to take no further regulatory action.”
AHPRA also cleared Fettke of any breach of good medical practice by referring to its Code of Conduct.
The Code states that good patient care involves “encouraging patients to take interest in, and responsibility for, the management of their health”. As well, the code states that doctors have a right to inform patients and colleagues “of treatments to which they conscientiously object”.
Fettke has said that he prefers not to have to amputate the limbs of diabetic patients when simple dietary change can save them.
Implications for Fettke and the future
AHPRA’s letter and apology go beyond just clearing him professionally. The letter’s wording “clearly implies that there is no harm in any health professional in Australia recommending LCHF therapies”, the Fettkes say.
“All health professionals who want to practice preventative medicine can now do so openly and without fear of repercussions,” Fettke told me.
British obesity researcher Dr Zoë Harcombe has welcomed the news: “Knowing this strong, caring and principled couple, the apology will mean a great deal. It has been too late in coming but better late than never.”
Saying “sorry” should mean: “We won’t do it again,” Harcombe said. “May Gary and Belinda be the last pioneers that ‘authorities’ harm.”
Fettke is upbeat. The DAA and AHPRA hoped to silence him on LCHF but they achieved the opposite. They achieved the “Streisand effect“, he said:
“The message – the science for nutrition and food as medicine – has grown louder and spread globally.”
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