If health secretary Frank Dobson was looking for someone who would be unafraid to deliver hard messages from the Bristol inquiry, he did well to choose Ian Kennedy.

For many years professor of health law, ethics and policy at University College London, Professor Kennedy has been an articulate critic and commentator on the organisation of healthcare in the UK. He has been one of the leading voices challenging the pervasive nature of medical power and the huge influence doctors exert in areas such as family life, judgements on disabled people's quality of life and how information is given to patients and relatives.

He first sprang to public attention with a series of Reith Lectures on BBC radio in 1980 entitled Unmasking Medicine. The book derived from the lectures, though published 18 years ago, has messages that are still resonant today.

For example, one of the tools Professor Kennedy identified as an important check on medical standards was 'professional audit', a process now at the centre of discussions about identifying under-performance.

'This is an area where we have much to learn from the US,' he wrote, describing the work of professional standards review organisations set up there in the 1970s.

But he also recorded medical resistance in the UK. 'At the 1980 annual representative meeting the British Medical Association rejected the notion of introducing medical audit. It was, according to one member, 'unnecessary, undesirable and, in some ways, offensive'.'

Summarising some of his Reith themes, Professor Kennedy wrote: 'I have repeatedly urged on you the need to reshape medicine so that it may better serve our needs. I have also stressed the need for us, as ordinary people, to reclaim some of the power we have chosen to surrender to medicine and the medicine man.'

Predictably, the lectures attracted some hostile comment in medical circles, but wiser heads in the profession decided to invite Professor Kennedy to help them with difficult decisions and ethical dilemmas. He was appointed to the General Medical Council in 1984 and served until 1993, a fact listed in Who's Who but omitted from his inquiry biography.

Omitting any mention of GMC membership was perhaps understandable, given the emotions stirred up by the GMC's investigations into the Bristol case, but this is somewhat at odds with the inquiry's spirit of openness.

Professor Kennedy was, by at least one account, a good ally in a campaign by some GMC members to introduce more rigorous and open accountability for doctors.

Also on the inquiry panel are Rebecca Howard, executive director of nursing at Manchester Children's Hospital and an expert on paediatric intensive care; Professor Sir Brian Jarman, former head of primary care and population health studies at Imperial College school of medicine, London; and Mavis Maclean, a socio-legal expert with a special interest in family law.