MPH Public Health (Web-based Learning) / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Primary Health Care

Course unit fact file
Unit code POPH63111
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


POPH63111 is designed for those currently involved in the delivery of primary health care or those with an interest in it. It is also suitable for healthcare administrators, managers, health service researchers and public health specialists who want to find out more about primary health care and why it matters to policy makers, health practitioners and most importantly to patients. POPH63111 is designed to encourage students to learn about the academic principles of primary health care but equally to think about how they can and should be applied in practice in different countries and contexts. The module is an optional component on our MPH or MRes. This module links well with health policy, as both courses encourage students to think about and apply what they are learning in practice.

Health is a basic human right... we have a powerful approach for operationalizing these values, strategies, and policies. This is, of course, primary health care

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (2009)

All people have a right to good quality and safe health care. Most people in the world access health care through primary (health care) or family/general practice. This course enables students to gain an understanding of the concepts, meaning and importance of primary health care; the ways in which it is organised throughout the world; workforce issues; and methods of assessing the quality of primary health systems and providers. It also emphasises the important tension between textbook definitions of primary care and the day-to-day realities of the practice and delivery of care to patients in primary care settings. While set within the context of Primary Health Care, this Unit looks specifically at Primary Care and its place within a health care system. One exciting aspect about the setting, role and workforce of Primary (Health) Care, as Guysz et al state, is that it “offers many unique and eclectic practice possibilities to meet the diverse needs of individuals, their families and communities” (pxix). Students are asked to share and draw on their own experiences. Students also apply their learning by focusing upon one country’s primary healthcare system of their own choice throughout the module. As the WHO stated in its 2008 report primary health Care - now more than ever: It is possible not to choose PHC. In the long run, however, that option carries a huge penalty: in forfeited health benefits, impoverishing costs, in loss of trust in the health system as a whole and, ultimately, in loss of political legitimacy. This unit explores and discusses the theory, practice and evidence base underpinning this assertion.

This unit has online content with assessed fixed time interaction required (students on these course units need to ensure they can access and contribute to online discussions during fixed periods in order to access the full marks available)

This is an interactive online course. Students must work through the online course material and are expected to engage in weekly discussion boards with their peers and tutors. 5% of the total marks for this course will be awarded for an assessed discussion board topic. Students are also encouraged to use the Blackboard discussion boards to learn from each other and to ask questions and check their understanding of the course material.


To enable participants to understand the concept and importance of primary care, how it integrates into current models of health care delivery, and how it can be evaluated and improved.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit, successful students will be able to:

1.    Discuss and compare the historical context for the development and current role and integration of primary care in different countries and differences in primary health care in industrialised and developing countries

2.    Develop a definition of primary care and how to assess the primary care-ness of a health care system

3.    Evaluate the evidence base between primary care based systems and better outcomes and quality of care

4.    Present an evidence based argument for the role and importance of primary care provided in a selected country

5.    Compare and critically contrast differing organisational/systems and workforce models of primary care drawing on international comparisons of healthcare systems.

6.    Apply frameworks for evaluating the quality of primary care provided in a selected country.

7.    Make a coherent argument for the role and importance of primary care in a selected country over the next decade.

8.    Apply the learning from the course to a specific country/health care system selected by the student.


  • The historical context for the development of primary care using the USA and UK as comparators with sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Comparing the differing definitions of primary care and the roles and functions of primary care in relation to the patterns of health and disease in the community.
  • Assessing the effectiveness of primary care through the evaluation of first contact care, longitudinality, comprehensiveness and co-ordination.
  • International comparisons.
  • Organisation and evaluation of the quality of primary (health) care

Teaching and learning methods

This unit provides students with a number of theoretical frameworks to help them understand aspects of primary care. Students are then encouraged to apply these frameworks to a specific country of their own choosing, their own settings, in different countries and in different positions within a health service. This formative teaching process is reinforced by marked discussion boards where students are encouraged to apply their learning to a selected country of their choice.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students will critically discuss differing opinions of primary care and whether primary-care-oriented health systems are better than those based on speciality care. This will involve comparing and contrasting differing models of primary care and developing a framework for evaluating primary care.
Written communication
Students will be expected to critically compare and contrast differing models of primary care, and make a coherent argument for the role and importance of primary care.

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within Unit (if relevant

Midterm Assignment

1,000 words


Final Assignment

3,000 words



Feedback methods

Students will be provided with personalised feedback for their mid-term and final summative assignments, within 15 working days for mid-term assignments and 20 working days for final submission.

Further opportunities for formative feedback (on non-assessed work) will also be provided during a course unit.

Recommended reading

There are four core introductory texts and the WHO PHC 2021 'key facts' website (look up your selected country as well as the general text):

  1. Greenhalgh T. (2007). Introduction, (pp: 1-22) in Greenhalgh T. Primary Health Care: Theory and Practice, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
  2. Starfield B, Shi L, Macinko J. (2005) Contribution of primary care to health systems and health, Milbank Q., vol. 83, no. 3, pp. 457-502.
  3. Lester H, Roland M. (2009) Performance measurement in primary care (pp. 371-405), in Smith PC, Mossiaslos E, Papanicolas I, Leatherman S (eds). Performance measurement for health system improvement: experiences, challenges and prospect. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  4. World Health Organisation. Chapter 3: Primary Care - putting people first in (pp 41-60) in World Health Organisation: The World Health Report 2008- primary Health Care (Now More Than Ever).
  5. WHO Primary Health Care 'Key Facts' 2021:

In addition, while not a core book, sections of the Guysz et al 2020 e-Text book will be used to highlight key issues throughout the module and it encourages readers also to apply learning to their role. It shows the importance of a wider Primary Health Care Team and the different contexts in which primary (health) care is delivered:
Guzys D, Brown R, Halcomb E, Whitehead D. An Introduction to Community and Primary Health Care, 2020, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (especially pp.3-17, but throughout as indicated in the course materials).

Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 150

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stephen Campbell Unit coordinator

Additional notes

If you have any questions about the content of this unit, please contact the course unit leader, Prof. Stephen Campbell, via email on or Steph Mitchell on If you have any other queries, please contact the PGT programme administrators via email on

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