Dr Ekkehard Kuenssberg, general practitioner; born December 17, 1913, died December 27, 2000

INSPIRED to a medical career by an organ recital by medical missionary Albert Schweitzer, which he heard when a schoolboy in Germany, Ekkehard Kuenssberg went on to lead the renaissance of general practice in this country.

After escaping from the Nazis with funds to sustain him in Britain concealed inside the

hollowed-out press of his tennis racket and the binding of a

hockey stick, Kuenssberg was accepted as a medical student at Edinburgh University as that institution's gift to Heidelberg University on its 400th birthday, because he was the son of one of its professors.

His father, a professor of German legal history at Heidelberg, died during the war, protected from arrest as a Jew only because of his high academic standing. His mother, thereafter, had to go into hiding for four years in order to survive the Holocaust.

Ekkehard von Kuenssberg, who was able to trace his ancestry back to the reign of Charlemagne, was educated at Salem under Kurt Hahn, who later established Gordonstoun. It was at Salem that he heard Schweitzer play the organ and determined, at the age of 16, to become a doctor.

His parents urged him to pursue his career in medicine in a country where the profession did not demand Aryan purity. By an unfortunate twist of fate, von Kuenssberg chose Austria, where he studied chemistry at Innsbruck University, at the same time helping to arrange the escape of refugees from Hitler's Germany .

In 1933, after declining an invitation from the SS to join its ranks, the value of his aristocratic connections presumably outweighing his Jewish ancestry, he secretly fled to Britain posing as a sports student, complete with tennis racket and hockey stick.

Von Kuenssberg's contribution to the enhanced role of general medical practice in this country is beyond measure. For 41 years a GP in the Granton area of Edinburgh, where he began as a locum in 1939, he was a noted researcher and medical politician, exerting, from the 1960s onward, a powerful influence in redefining and restoring the role of the general practitioner, threatened and reduced by increasing medical specialisation.

Enjoying an outstanding reputation in obstetrics and home deliveries, Dr von Kuenssberg was a considerable innovator, introducing new premises, encouraging increasingly close collaboration between doctors, nurses, midwives, and practice managers, and reshaping the design and maintenance of records. Also, he set up the first survey of cervical smears to be published from a group of general practices and directed the evaluation of direct nursing attachment to a practice.

As a member of the College of General Practitioners, he played a leading role on its practice organisation and research committees. But it was in 1965, when chairman of the Scottish General Medical Services Committee, that he made his name negotiating what became known as the Family Doctor Charter.

This made it possible for GPs anywhere in Britain to employ nursing and secretarial help, develop better premises, and obtain specific postgraduate training. A founder member of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr von Kuenssberg was its president from 1976-79.

On the outbreak of war, Dr von Kuenssberg was interned, then released to serve in Africa with the Royal Army Medical Corps - his name, in keeping with popular prejudice, changed for the duration to Edgar Valentine Kingsley.

A keen hockey player, skier, and alpine mountaineer in his youth, he was a founder member of Edinburgh University Ski Club. His interests away from medicine involved gardening and listening to organ music, particularly the works of J S Bach.

Married in 1941 to Constance Hardy, whom he met when

they were both medical students, Dr von Kuenssberg and his

wife first set up home at Canonmills, moving in the early 1970s to Haddington.

Dr von Kuenssberg, who was bedevilled by Parkinson's disease for more than a decade and suffered, latterly, from cancer, is survived by Constance, his wife of 60 years, two sons, and two daughters.