'Diet or die' surgeon reprimanded over advice

Dr Gary Fettke is passionate about nutrition after amputating limbs of diabetic patients. Photo: ABC
Dr Gary Fettke is passionate about nutrition after amputating limbs of diabetic patients. Photo: ABC

A SURGEON who has had to amputate limbs of diabetic patients has been reprimanded by Australia's medical watchdog for suggesting patients follow low-carb diets.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) found Dr Gary Fettke was not qualified to give nutritional advice.

The ABC reports the case has prompted a Senate committee to call for an inquiry into AHPRA amid concerns the ruling could discourage other health professionals from giving diet advice.

Dr Fettke told the 7.30 program that he became passionate after dealing with diabetic patients whose diets were a big part of the problem.

"What I've been advocating for some years is cutting sugar down, particularly all the refined sugars in the diet," he said.

"Over time that's evolved, and it's evolved to what I call low carb, healthy fat.

"It's just eating lots of vegetables, pasture-fed meat and the right amount of oil in the form of things like nuts, avocado, cheese, olive oil and fish."

One of his patients, Julian Robinson, who had to have his leg amputated because of complications from diabetes, said the diet changed his life for the better.

"He virtually said to me, 'You need to change your diet and your lifestyle or you'll die,'" Mr Robinson said.

"I cut out of my diet most of the carbohydrates, which was hard because I like biscuits so much, and increased my protein. I eat a lot more meat and eggs."

Doctor Fettke started pushing for changes to the food in the Launceston General Hospital where he worked and then criticised the hospital for a lack of action.

According to Dr Fettke, an anonymous complaint from a dietician at the hospital sparked an investigation by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Two and a half years later the watchdog found he was working outside his scope of practise and was not qualified to give specific nutritional advice.

He was ordered to stop speaking about the low carbohydrate, high fat diet.

"The committee does not accept that your medicine studies of themselves provide sufficient education or training to justify you providing specific advice or recommendations to patients or the public about nutrition and diet, such as the LCHF lifestyle concept," it read.

The AHPRA investigation also raised concerns about things he was posting on his website and social media accounts, saying his posts online may be misinterpreted by people who might conclude reducing sugar could slow or cure cancer.

Dr Fettke said the findings could have repercussions for other health professionals.

"I've been contacted by many doctors. I know the AMA has been contacted by many doctors as well as the medical protection society.

"And it's not just for doctors, it's for nurses who are working in outreach areas, even nurses in the community, dentists, pharmacists, chiropractors. You go to your cardiologist and he tells you what to eat, you go to a neurosurgeon and he tells you what to eat, gastroenterologist and all of them, by definition, don't have a major training in nutrition and yet they're all giving advice."

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