Dr Richard Doll 1912-2005 set up the national blood service, insisting that Britain avoid the American path of paying donors for their blood writes Mike Walker. In so doing, it established a national system of delivering an essential service based on the values of the NHS.

Richard Doll was born on October 28th 1912 in Hampton. He joined the Communist Party in his student years and graduated from St Thomas’ hospital in 1937. He went on to become the most successful epidemiologist of the twentieth century and is credited with turning it into an evidence driven science.
 
During the war he served on a hospital ship as part of the Royal Medical Corps.
 
Doll helped set up the national blood service, insisting that Britain avoid the American path of paying donors for their blood. His war years experience spent in the RAMC, helped to shape his outlook of the establishment of a national health service free at point of use and universally available.
 
Doll was involved along with a generation of progressive doctors, in the Socialist Medical Association, which did much to promote the establishment of the NHS prior to WW2 and with the incoming Labour government.
 
He was undoubtedly influenced by Henry Ernest Sigerist (1891–1957) American pioneer of "socialised medicine" and the need for health workers to address the fundamental causes of ill health such as poverty, poor diet and housing.
 
The British Communist Party in the 1940's and 50's organised a small but immensely influential group of radical doctors in the "Sigerist society" 
 
Doll became famous for his joint scientific work on the link with cancer and smoking being amongst the first to prove, what tobacco companies denied, in a 1950 paper. 
 
In 1960 he was elected to the Royal Society.
 
In his later years, Doll was the most influential occupational epidemiologist of his generation, working particularly on exposure limits to asbestos. In many fields he pioneered research, his findings linked work with health and he recommended ways in which the work environment could be improved. 
 
In 1969, Doll moved to Oxford University, to sit as the Regius Professor of Medicine. Working in the Imperial Cancer Research Centre he took part in a study which concluded that tobacco, along with infections and diet, caused between them three quarters of all cancers. This finding became the basis of much of the World Health Organisation's conclusions on environmental pollution and cancer.
 
In 1996 he was made a Companion of Honour for "services of national importance"
 
He died on July 24th 2005, aged 92.
 
Looking back should never be an end in its self. Rather we look at the lives and contributions of characters like Doll, to understand what the founders of the NHS were trying to achieve. This understanding adds urgency and bite to the current struggles to protect our health service on the basis of cooperation.