Douglas Black

Douglas Black

Sir Douglas Black (1913-2002)

Douglas Black belonged to a generation of physicians interested in the kidney whose careers were established before dialysis and transplant became viable treatments, and before clinical nephrology became an identified clinical speciality. His early  research career was interrupted by the Second World War. Succeeding Sir Robert Platt as professor of medicine in Manchester in 1959, he maintained and strengthened the department’s interest in kidney disease and hypertension. His own research interests were in fluid and electrolyte disorders; he did particularly  notable work with Malcolm Milne on experimental potassium depletion in man.

When renal replacement therapy began, he was unconvinced that long term dialysis was a realistic treatment option. Instead at Manchester Royal Infirmary, he drove the establishment of a transplant programme, with a modest dialysis service sufficient only to support the transplant work. Then he promoted Withington Hospital in south Manchester as the site for the main dialysis service.

A Lancet editorial published in 1965   which took a negative stance about chronic dialysis was influential in its negative effects on national policy and investment in dialysis. At the time editorials in the Lancet were anonymous, but many suspect Black was its author, recognising his characteristic writing style; though Black himself never admitted nor denied it.

Black went on to distinguish himself in national medical leadership as Chairman of the BMA, and President of the Royal College of Physicians. He wrote a highly influential report published in 1980   – the Black Report – which emphasised the link between poor health and social deprivation. Its  findings made him less than popular with the government of the day (under Mrs. Thatcher) since the findings did not fit with their political dogma.

Read Douglas Black’s obituary.

Watch Douglas Black being interviewed by Stewart Cameron in 1997 for the ISN Video Legacy Project.




Last Updated on April 28, 2023 by John Feehally