Tuesday 30 October 2018
Hansard of the Legislative Council

 Hospitals - Sugar and Junk Food - Dr Fettke

[2.43 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I raise again the subject of sugar-sweetened drinks and junk food in hospitals and the issues around awareness of patient care and quality assurance.

I have previously brought to the attention of this House my experience of meeting Launceston orthopaedic surgeon Gary Fettke and his campaigning on the perils of sugar and junk food, particularly in the hospital environment.  His argument has always been that hospitals are at the coalface and should provide leadership on preventive health. 

As I said recently, to the delight of the member for Windermere, it is not long ago that hospital auxiliaries used to sell cigarettes directly to the patients on the wards.  Once the perils of tobacco were identified, that practice ceased. 

Dr Fettke and many others now argue we should apply the same practice to sugar and junk food in view of the obesity and diabetes epidemics challenging our society. 

Mr President, you may recall that in 2013 we passed a motion in favour of reviewing the hospital food policy and, in particular, to adopt a reduction in junk food availability.  Unfortunately, nothing has changed.  Since we passed that motion in 2013, New Zealand hospitals have adopted a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages and have reduced the sale of junk food.  It is not about creating a nanny state in Tasmania, but all Australian states bar Tasmania have followed suit.  Even in Queensland - the home of sugar production - hospitals adopted that policy in August.

While on the subject of Dr Gary Fettke, I want to talk about the action against him by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - AHPRA - for giving dietary advice.  I point out that it is a nonsense to say doctors should not give advice on diet.

Any GP assessing a patient with a high blood pressure problem would be negligent not to give advice about excessive salt consumption.  Doctors are meant to be advocates.  No, member for Windermere, I was not looking at you when I said that, but if the cap fits, wear it.  I can tell by your chuckling -

Mr Dean - But the member for Derwent was.

Mr FINCH - Everybody else was.  Doctors are meant to be advocates of public health and it remains a concern.  Dr Fettke's situation developed when his recommendations on reducing junk food in hospitals were supported by this House in 2013.  He received precious little support from the Tasmanian Health Service on this issue.

He met with opposition from hospital dieticians - specifically, their parent body, the Dieticians Association of Australia.  That body wrote repeatedly to the Launceston General Hospital, effectively demanding silencing him from giving nutritional advice.

In 2014, he was reported anonymously to the Tasmanian Medical Board for giving advice to his patients to cut back on sugar.  The subsequent two-and-a-half year investigation by the Tasmanian Medical Board determined orthopaedic surgeons should not be giving dietary advice.

Ms Forrest - They have to only have six years in medical school and about 12 years in training!

Mr FINCH - The decision for Dr Fettke under national law was lifelong and non-appellable.  Is that justice, even if his advice was shown to be best practice?  Dr Fettke and many supporters in the wider community were outraged by the decision.  His questioning of the decision was not addressed by AHPRA and he took his case to the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman.

Nearly two years of review by the Ombudsman found flaws in the judgment process and his case was reviewed by an independent medical board.  In a six-week turnaround, all findings against Dr Fettke were retracted and a formal apology was given by AHPRA.

Dr Fettke has requested the same formal acknowledgement of actions and an apology from the Tasmanian Health Service on multiple occasions because he was trying to clear his name and to get on with his work.  An outside federal body has now determined the whole issue was unfounded and unsubstantiated.

Dr Fettke is still looking for reform in our dietary guidelines and is looking at the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency for a review process because he is concerned about the health of the wider community.

Unfortunately, he is doing this now from outside the Tasmanian public health service.  Our Tasmanian public hospitals should come into line with practices of all other states with regard to the removal of sugar-sweetened beverages and junk food.

Tasmania has poor health outcomes.  Preventative health should make us leaders in Australia, not followers.