Frank Dobson, Tony Blair’s first health secretary after the landslide Labour victory in 1997, has died at the age of 79.
The Yorkshire-born politician resigned from the House of Commons four years ago, having served as Holborn and St Pancras MP for 36 years.
He was replaced by Sir Keir Starmer, now the shadow Brexit secretary.
Mr Blair hailed him as a “politician of the highest calibre”, while current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised his former constituency neighbour’s “great wit”.
A former leader of Camden Council, Mr Dobson was Labour’s candidate at the mayoral election in 2000, having been persuaded to go for the newly-created job by Mr Blair.
Mr Dobson came third, losing out to then-Independent Ken Livingstone. Tory Steve Norris came second.
A family spokesman confirmed the former cabinet minister had died on Monday evening following a “longstanding illness”.
“The Dobson family is sad to announce the death of Frank Dobson, former MP for Holborn and St Pancras and secretary of state for health,” said the spokesman.
“His family would like to thank all the staff at the Homerton University Hospital for their outstanding expertise, commitment and care in the last few months and also the staff of York Hospital for his previous excellent care.
“He also greatly appreciated the support of his many friends and former parliamentary colleagues.”
Mr Dobson entered the Commons the same year Margaret Thatcher became prime minister.
Following his unsuccessful bid for City Hall at the turn of the millennium, he returned to the backbenches and spoke out against a string of party policies including the Iraq War, top-up fees for students, the marketisation of parts of the NHS, and longer detention without charge for terror suspects.
Following his decision to step down in 2015, the West Ham supporter said at the time: “It has been an honour to represent the people of Holborn and St Pancras for all these years and to have made at least some contribution to making it a better place to live.
“I am proud of the people I represent. They get on together and help one another.
“It has been hard work keeping up with the needs and aspirations of local people and helping resolve their problems. My constituents have been slow to chide and swift to bless.”
Ex-prime minister Mr Blair praised Mr Dobson’s “many important improvements to the NHS” during his two years in the cabinet.
“Frank Dobson was an exemplary public servant and politician of the highest calibre,” said the former party leader.
“He was a great colleague with an often pugnacious style but always loyal to the Labour Party and to changing the lives of people for the better.”
Mr Corbyn, speaking on the campaign trail in Blackpool, paid tribute to his former colleague.
“He was also a great raconteur, a great purveyor of stories, a great source of gossip around the House of Commons and a great wit in many ways and would always remember the good and the bad in just about everybody he met,” said the Islington North MP.
“As a parliamentary neighbour of mine we got on absolutely famously… we just got along extremely well.”
Shadow health secretary John Ashworth said he was “devastated” by the news of Mr Dobson’s passing, and current Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: “From one health secretary to another, thank you for your years of service and devotion to our health service.”
Mr Dobson leaves his wife Janet and their three children.