Published: 19/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5823 Page 5

That the poor suffer worse health than the rich is something the health service now takes for granted - and works to tackle.

But when Professor Sir Douglas Black put forward this theory in the 1980 report that bears his name, the Conservative government gave it a frosty reception.

Sir Douglas was chief scientist at the Department of Health and Social Security from 1973 to 1977, when the Labour health secretary of the time, David Ennals, asked him to head an inquiry team into health inequalities.

The resulting Black Report concluded that for those in the lowest occupational groups, death rates were higher and ill health worse at every stage of life. It made 37 recommendations, including caps on wages, rises in benefits, a campaign against child poverty, free school meals, safer play areas and phasing out the tobacco industry.

The report was never formally published, though 260 copies were made available on the August bank holiday weekend in 1980. This piqued the interest of specialist journalists, medical groups and opposition MPs. The incoming Labour government of 1997 took up Sir Douglas'mantle, promising to end child poverty and making explicit the link between poverty and ill health.

However, Sir Douglas was not close to the Labour government and criticised it particularly where he saw 'creeping privatisation'.

While Sir Douglas was best known for his work on inequalities, he chaired a number of other inquiries including one on paediatric bone marrow transplant in the 1980s, the effects of radiation at Sellafield and the provision of healthcare in the Channel Islands.

He completed a major body of research into potassium metabolism earning him international recognition. In 1977 he was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians, later becoming president of the British Medical Association, the Medical Council on Alcoholism and the Medical Protection Society.

He was married to Molly in 1948. They had a son and a daughter.

Sir Douglas Black, medical scientist, born 29 May 1913, died 13 September 2002