HAR697: Using Policy to Strengthen Health Systems


This module seeks to build on students' own experiences and knowledge of health policy and health systems. Over the course of the module, students will work individually and also in small groups to develop a critical understanding of health policy and particular health systems, and to develop ideas and proposals about how these health systems can be strengthened - and who might or might not benefit. These improvements can be targeted at any combination of the regional, national, district, and community level.

In this module, health policy is interpreted as the ‘purposeful and deliberate actions’ through which efforts are made to strengthen aspects of (or address issues within) health systems to promote public health (Gilson, 2012) and health systems are understood both as public health systems (covering for example health protection, health promotion/improvement and health care public health) , and as more narrowly defined health care systems (both formal and informal). The module is suitable for students with broad public health and health care understanding, but also for those with more limited knowledge and experience of health systems.

Aims & Objectives

The module aims to:

• Provide students with the critical skills to analyse and understand the underpinning social, economic and political contexts of health policies, and the factors that influence the development and impact in specific health system contexts;
• Provide critical insight into policy efforts to strengthen health systems in different contexts;
• Develop a critical appreciation of how health systems in particular contexts might be strengthened through policy initiatives

On satisfactory completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Assess current issues facing health systems in different national and local contexts and policy initiatives to address them;
  • Identify and critically evaluate how different factors (historical, social, economic/financial, technological and political) shape and influence policies and health system development at global, national and sub-national levels;
  • Assess the main actors involved in health policy processes at global, national and sub-national levels;
  • Identify current policy initiatives related to health systems strengthening and critically analyse how particular groups or people may (or may not) benefit from that strengthening;
  • Suggest and explain ways in which health systems may be changed and improved through different policy measures at global, national and sub-national levels.

Teaching Methods

Lectures will provide an overview of the material for each stage of the module, in order to ensure that all students have a similar level of understanding before moving to interactive learning and group work.

Each student needs to be prepared to take charge of their own learning. Students will identify and critically analyse particular case studies of health policy and health systems in different national to local contexts. Tutors will introduce particular policy theories, tools and models about strengthening health systems, which the students will investigate and research further.  The tutors will facilitate a simulated role play of health policy process to strengthen health systems.

Students will also work both in groups and individually to develop their understanding. The module is designed to be interactive in nature, so students should expect to engage in group work and discussion with their fellow students and tutors.


As this is a 15-credit module, the expectation is that each student will spend around 150 working hours on it (including teaching). So, apart from being expected to attend all the timetabled sessions, you are also expected to spend around 14 full days or 28 half-days doing further investigation and inquiry – a considerable amount of time. As part of this extra activity outside scheduled sessions, for the case study inquiries, each student will need to arrange further meetings (either face-to-face, by telephone or online) with their group members (which will need to take place in-between the formal sessions). Attending the taught sessions alone will not enable you to do the work necessary for the group and individual inquiries, and will not be considered as acceptable performance.


Component Weighting

Assessment 1 (Group work)


Assessment 2:  (Individual inquiry-essay (2,500 words)


The module will involve a formative assessment and a summative assessment

The formative assessment (20% of total mark) will be based on group work and will involve each student working in a group on a policy topic in a specific health system context. The assessment is designed to appraise how well the students can: 1) identify the key factors that have shaped health policy and system development; 2) critically analyse the implications for particular aspect of health (to be specified by the tutor); 3) detail and appraise potential policy options that could address the health system issue.

The summative assessment (80% of total mark) will be an essay (2500 words) which provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate that they can identify issues facing a health system in a particular national or local context, critically evaluate policy options to address health system issues and explain ways in which health systems may be changed and improved through different policy measures.

All summative assessments need to be submitted electronically via MOLE.

The pass mark is 50%.