Health and Society: Health Systems and Public Health

The details
Sociology and Criminology
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 28 June 2024
09 September 2022


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA L350 Sociology and Health,
BA L351 Sociology and Health (including Foundation Year),
BA L352 Sociology and Health (including Placement Year),
BA L353 Sociology and Health (including Year Abroad)

Module description

This module provides a broad overview of health systems in the UK and abroad, and a discussion of public health and how medical sociology informs public health.
Topics covered in term one will focus primarily on health systems and policy and will include, but will not be limited to: the design and history of the UK medical system; the role of professional organizations in medicine and how doctors are socialized into their roles; how patients experience illness, health policy and health equity, medical technology and digital health; medical advocacy and activism; mental health policy and treatment; mental illness, crime and the prison system; the role of power and the assumptions undergirding biomedicine; a critical examination of global health and complementary medicine; and ethical considerations in health and medicine.

Spring term examines the role of medical sociology in public health. Topics included include but are not limited to: Introduction to the field of public health; disability; reproductive health; alcohol and drug use; the anti-vaccination movement; STIs, HIV and AIDs; chronic diseases; and infectious diseases, epidemics, and global pandemics.

Because this module includes a wide range of topics including mental health and health and crime, we expect it to have broad appeal to students across all sociology degree courses. We also expect this module to appeal to not only sociology students, but also those studying nursing or health and social care.

Module aims

This module aims to:

1. Teach students to evaluate the key debates and themes in medical sociology and health services;
2. Develop students’ understanding of health policy, digital health, and health activism;
3. Develop students’ critical awareness of how medical sociology contributes to key debates and issues in public health; and
4. Provide students with an understanding of some of the ways in which social contexts matter for individual and community-level inequalities in well-being.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students will be able to:

1. Outline key debates in health systems and policy;
2. Demonstrate skills in being able to review and assess how medical sociology contributes to the development of health policy;
3. Understand critical approaches to healthcare organization and be able to draw from a range of theoretical models to explore how doctor-patient relationships may be affected in differing settings;
4. Engage critically and independently in debates relevant to the sociology of health and illness as they relate to ongoing, pressing public health concerns; and
5. Understand key issues in public health and how medical sociology contributes to debates on those issues.

Module information

Autumn Term: Health Services

Week 2: Introduction to Health Services and Public Health
This week we will provide an overview of the course and an introduction to the health services and public health across the globe.

Week 3: Health Services in the UK and beyond
We will continue our examination of health by discussing healthcare services in the UK, the development of the UK medical system, and how access to modern medical provision, or lack thereof, shapes our health.

Week 4: Becoming a Medical Provider
How does one become a doctor? In this session, we will explore the socialization of medical practitioners. In particular, we will reflect on the UK National Health Services and the specific characteristics of medical education in the UK.

Week 5: Experiences of Illness and Being a Patient
In this session, we will explore what it means to be a patient as well as the subjective experiences of illness. How does illness rearrange and reorganize social life and relations? How do patients give meaning to their experiences of illness? We will also interrogate the very notion of the 'patient' and what expectations and assumptions it engenders.

Week 6: Advocacy and Activism
While the power relations between medical practitioners and patients are often represented and experienced as unequal, patients have played an important role in resisting medical injustice. In this session, we will explore how people have advocated for changes to diagnostic categories, medical malpractice and discrimination.

Week 7: Medical Technology and Digital Health
While technology has arguably always been an important aspect of medical practice throughout the ages, there is currently an increased interest and investment in new technologies and tools that can improve diagnosis and treatment of illness. In this session, we will question the promises made by the developers and funders of medical technologies and highlight the social, cultural and political dimensions of these developments. We will focus on one particular example: the rise of digital health and self-tracking health technologies.

Week 8: Health and Crime
Society has long stigmatised individuals who suffer from certain types of illness such as mental illness, sexually transmitted infections, and infertility. This week we will look at how marginalisation of specific types of illnesses may link to the potential for crime. We will address questions such as: what does it mean if someone with a mental illness participates in a crime without sufficient understanding of the rules that govern what is and is not considered to be criminal behaviour? Is it a crime for individuals with an STI such as HVI/AIDs to engage in unprotected sex without informing their sexual partner of their health status? What motivates individuals with infertility problems to engage in questionable adoption practices, or other forms of illegal behaviours to obtain a child? This week we will examine the relationship between health and crime and reflect on questions related to how our health and our motivations to engage in criminal behaviour may be related.

Week 9: Health and the Prison System
With increasing numbers of people entering the justice system and prison specifically, the health systems that treat prisoners are experiencing substantial burdens due to lack of resources. In addition, the increasing longevity of the population presents some long-term chronic disease challenges for the existing prison system. This week we will discuss how both physical and mental healthcare is addressed within the prison system.

Week 10: Health Equity
This week looks to the future to ask: How can we use the knowledge we learned in this class to help policy makers create socially responsible public policies that achieve long-term health equity across different populations? In conjunction, we also critically interrogate the definition of health equity and examine the ways in which we might enact health equity as a society.

Week 11: Health Policy
This week we examine how health policy is set and applied. We again look to the future to ask: How can we use the knowledge we learned in this class to help policy makers create socially responsible public policies that reduce the mental health and illness burden on society? We will also examine the ways in which exogenous shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic influence health and health policy.

Spring Term: Public Health

Week 16: Introduction to Public Health
In public health emergencies – such as during COVID-19 and environmental tragedies - the term 'public health' is widely used. This week we will explore what public health is and how it relates to the health and well-being of everyone.

Week 17: Reproductive Health and Pregnancy Prevention
A major public health concern across the globe is reproductive health and pregnancy prevention. This week we will explore some of the ways in which inequalities exist in reproductive health provision, and will explore topics such as differing rates of maternal mortality and gender influences on contraceptive use.

Week 18: Childbearing & Infertility
Childbearing, population, and infertility are major areas of both public health and sociological inquiry. This week we will explore some of the ways in which our social location influences our choices to bear children, and how infertility impacts those who desire children.

Week 19: STIs, HIV and AIDS
Sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDs are major public health issues. However, these issues are highly stigmatised in ways that other infectious diseases are not. This week we will explore the tensions around STI infection, testing, and treatment and how these issues impact public health systems.

Week 20: Reading Week

Week 21: Disability and Health
This week we will continue our examination of public health by examining the ways in which disability is understood and handled in society. Our topics will include things such as discrimination against the disabled, and struggles the disabled face in accessing health services.

Week 22: Alcohol and Drug Use
This week we will examine a specific concern to public health professionals, drug and alcohol use. We will focus on discussing alcohol consumption and the controversy surrounding legalisation of marijuana, as well as touching on the public implications of the use of other drugs. We will include a discussion of the different approaches to the use of illegal drugs and address criminal versus public health approaches to dealing with alcohol and drug abuse.

Week 23: The Anti-Vaccination Movement
While the anti-vax movement has been around for some time, it has become a hot topic in recent times due to both the increasing prevalence of health-related social media and the COVID-19 pandemic and associated vaccination programme. This week we will examine the ways in which the antivax movement had grown and spread and how this has impacted public health efforts to reduce and eradicate infectious disease globally.

Week 24: Chronic Diseases
This week we will discuss a major burden on public health, chronic disease. We will discuss obesity, diabetes, and cancer among other chronic diseases that need ongoing medical treatment and critically reflect on how the UK and other countries approach the growing burdens chronic diseases place on current health services and public health efforts.

Week 25: Infectious Disease, Epidemics and Global Pandemics
While we have touched on COVID-19 in other weeks, this week we will discuss the ways in which infectious diseases have and will continue to shape public health across the world. We will also look at some of the health disparities that have arisen due to infectious disease overall, and COVID-19 specifically.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered through two-hour weekly seminars that will combine lecture with class discussion and small group work allowing the students to experience different ways of learning the material covered, Lectures will present key concepts for each weeks topic, while small group work will help the students to explore specific concepts of interest. The module aims to create and inclusive learning environment for all students. It will do so by: 1. Offering both textual and visual materials (including film and internet content) so that students can learn in the manner best suited to them. 2. Using a bibliography that is inclusive of all gender identities, and all racial and ethnic identities. 3. Allowing students to learn about and experience views that challenge their ideas about the role of health in different societies today. 4. Informing students of the short- and long-term expectations regarding their interaction and engagement with the module content and assessments. 5. Making sure individual and teamwork remain supportive, respectful, diverse, and tolerant. 6. Seeking to support all forms of learners inside and outside of time spent in the seminar. 7. Providing personalised feedback in written and oral form during tutorials and office hours. All lecture and class contents will be available via Moodle and Listen Again. Students will be expected to read assigned material and to attend the weekly seminar. They will also be expected to and participate in discussions and group work in the seminar and at times outside of the seminar setting. The module will be assessed through coursework (60%) and a final exam (40%). Marked term-time activities will include two essays of 2,500 words each in response to one of a set of prompts on module themes that will be provide to students. One essay will be due at the end of each term (Autumn and Spring) and the final exam will be done in summer term. The final exam will consist of a list of six to ten questions from which the student must select three to respond to. The coursework assessments are designed to give the student the opportunity to showcase understanding on specific topics of the module and the larger debates with more general theoretical and empirical ramifications (this will be assessed through the written submission each term). The final exam will assess the degree to which students are able to identify themes across topics and to apply learned theoretical frameworks to these themes. For all assessments, students will receive marks drawn upon the departmental criteria measuring understanding of the subject; utilisation of proper academic style; relevance of material selected and of the arguments proposed; planning and organisation; logical coherence; critical evaluation; comprehensiveness of research; evidence of synthesis; innovation, creativity, and originality. Assignment should be uploaded onto the FASER Coursework Submission system by the deadline established in the module outline.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Exam  Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during Summer (Main Period) 
Exam  Reassessment Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during September (Reassessment Period) 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
60% 40%


Coursework Exam
60% 40%
Module supervisor and teaching staff



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information
Sociology and Criminology

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