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Health and illness

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This module has a broad appeal to anyone with an interest in health and illness, whether it is for personal or professional reasons, and the variety of case studies that are used will encourage you to think about health beyond any traditional boundaries. You’ll examine health policy and practice relating to different models of health and illness care, including those associated with long-term conditions. You’ll also gain an insight into contemporary and emerging debates about this subject. Throughout the module you will be provided with opportunities to develop your critical thinking skills and to acquire the analytical and conceptual skills needed to link theory and practice.

What you will study

This module comprises four study blocks.

Block 1 introduces the notion that health is everybody’s business, while recognising that there is great diversity in what people mean when they talk of health and the ways of researching, measuring and evaluating health. Underpinning the different ways of thinking about health are differing – and at times conflicting – values.

You’ll explore the influence of biomedicine on healthcare policy and practice, along with the challenges to that model that have arisen in response to debates about the role of social determinants of health and ill health. The block concludes with a study of childbirth that contextualises and debates the visions and values of health already discussed.

Block 2 develops the discussions relating to the social determinants of health. The concept of lifestyle is examined in terms of its focus on individual behaviours, the limiting effects of structural factors, and in particular structural inequalities. The health consequences of stress and the ways in which relationships determine health and wellbeing are critically considered, and the block concludes by contextualising the determinants of health already discussed through an examination of the diverse experiences of health and illness. Throughout the block, people’s experiences of long-term conditions are used to illustrate key concepts.

Block 3 moves on from examining the wider determinants of health and illness to consider the implications for practice. Issues such as self-care, caring, prevention of disease and ill health, and curing are explored, with health service provision being critically discussed. The final chapter of the block draws together key themes with a discussion of prevention, curing and care in relation to mental health and mental healthcare.

Block 4 considers health inequalities, their link to social and economic factors and the strategies that have been developed to tackle them. This includes a close examination of health policies over time. The role of public health in improving the health of the population is examined and the block concludes with an exploration of some of the ways in which local health action takes place. This is illustrated by an evaluation of case studies from each of the four nations of the UK.

You will learn

This module provides you with an insight into contemporary and emerging debates about health and illness. Specifically, the module encourages you to:

  • develop knowledge and understanding of medical, psychological, sociological, political and cultural perspectives on health
  • explore and evaluate the utility of different models of health for understanding health and healthcare and the experience of illness
  • review your own and alternative standpoints and values in health work
  • analyse current health policy and practice
  • review and evaluate local initiatives to improve health
  • interpret and evaluate health-related data and literature.

Your learning will take place through a series of online learning guides via the module website and through four study books. The learning guides provide a structured environment where you engage with academic readings, websites, journal articles, audio clips and a range of other learning elements that constitute the combined teaching material for the module.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have the study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, obtained either through OU level 1 study, or from equivalent study elsewhere.

Our OU level 1 module An introduction to health and social care (K101) would be ideal preparation.

However, you don’t need any prior knowledge as the study material for this module is designed to be accessible if you are new to this subject.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

You will receive guidance on how to get started online in your first mailing. This will include information on using your computer for OU study and working with the Computing Guide. For example, the guidance explains how to access and use your module website and online discussion forums. If you have time before the start of the module you can work through this and explore all the online services available to you.

What's included

Module guide, four study books, Reader (Long-term conditions: challenges in health and social care practice), and other printed material. You will have access to a module website through which assessment, teaching and library resources are available. On the website there is a module map which explains how the study materials fit together, as well as electronic versions of most of the printed study materials.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • macOS 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor to help you with the study material and to assess your ongoing progress by marking and commenting on your written work and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Most of the contact with your tutor and other students will be via email and online discussion forums. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying K213 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Health and illness starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018 when it will be presented for the last time.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

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