Leadership for Health Services Improvement MSc/PGDip/PGCert

The Leadership for Health Services Improvement MSc/PGDip/PGCert explores the theory, principles and practice of leadership and service improvement in health-related organisations with exploration of key issues relating to the individual (leadership values and behaviours, role, authority, power and influence); the organisation (systems and sub-systems, purpose, quality, culture, user choice and involvement); and the context (complex, ambiguous and political, multiple constituencies and accountabilities). It also includes a focus on personal development and action learning.

HSMC MSc Programme brochure 2016 (PDF)

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This part-time programme responds to the contemporary political agenda by developing leadership skills within the context of improving health services. 

The programme is available as a Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma, or Masters degree.

Programme structure

The programme has 5 compulsory modules:

  • Leadership in Context
  • Applied Leadership Learning
  • Patient and User Involvement in Health Care
  • An Introduction to Organisational Development in Health and Social Care
  • Health Care Quality: Innovation and Improvement

The sixth taught module is optional and can be drawn from other HSMC modules.

The dissertation is 10,000 words on a subject relevant to Leadership. Students are encouraged to evaluate their own leadership in the dissertation.

In the first year of study, Leadership in Context and Applied Leadership Learning are the distinctive modules. These modules run together throughout the year in blocks of two or thre days, a total of fourteen days. The Applied Leadership Learning module is an Action Learning Set of around 6-8 days which meets throughout the year.

Most students also take one of the compulsory modules or the optional module in the first year. In the second year, the remaining modules are taken. All modules, apart from Applied Leadership Learning and Leadership in Context, have 5 days contact time in blocks of two or three days.

A Postgraduate Certificate is available by completing Leadership in Context, Applied Leadership Learning, and one of the compulsory modules.

Why study this course

The Health Services Management Centre is the leading UK organisation providing research, teaching, professional development and consultancy to health and social care agencies. It serves as a bridge between managers and practitioners in health care and the academic world of research and theory, and many of its staff have experience as senior managers in the field. HSMC has gained a unique reputation as a 'critical friend' to the health care community, striving for both relevance and rigour. HSMC belongs to the University of Birmingham College of Social Sciences. The College brings together over 429 academics (including 83 professors) and almost 200 administrative staff across a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary fields. The College's mission is to 'generate new knowledge about society, and to transform this in ways that improve wellbeing'.

The University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham was founded in 1900 and is a member of the Russell Group of leading UK universities. It is currently ranked among the top five research institutions in the UK, and its teaching quality ratings average 200 on a 24 point scale.

Very enlightening, it has opened my eyes to areas that I had previously dismissed in terms of importance. I have found it very useful in identifying new ways of approaching difficult situations or tasks."


The MSc programme consists of taught modules (total 120 credits) plus a dissertation (60 credits). There are five compulsory modules, each worth 20 credits. Students have freedom to select the modules for the remaining 20 credits from those offered by HSMC or from the wider range of modules offered elsewhere in the University to reflect the programme's emphasis on leadership and service improvement.

The compulsory modules are:

Leadership in Context (20 credits)

Module Lead(s): Iain Snelling; Merv Conroy

This module draws on a framework for examining the lived experience of taking up a leadership role. It critically explores the contexts within which healthcare and leadership is situated, the role of leaders in service improvement, in order to make sense of and negotiate, better outcomes for service users, staff and other stakeholders. The three spheres of leadership experience explored through this framework - person - system and context - are brought together and considered as it applies to you, your work place and the local and national contexts within which you take up your authority and exercise leadership in role, to improve the quality of outcomes for service users.

By the end of this module you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the complex, ambiguous and political contexts within which NHS leadership is exercised.
  • Articulate an understanding of 'leading' in systems with multiple constituencies and accountabilities.
  • Understand the changing role and task of healthcare leaders as leaders of services and systems, staff and processes.
  • Appreciate the centrality of meaning and purpose as a motivator for clinicians.
  • Demonstrate how your learning about leadership can contribute to better outcomes for service users, staff and other stakeholders in your own work contexts.

Applied Leadership Learning (20 credits)

Module Lead(s): Iain Snelling; Merv Conroy

This module is explicitly developmental in its approach, with a focus on students usintg the experience of action learning within a group setting to enable critical and in-depth personal reflection and learning.

The action learning set meetings held for groups of up to 8 students will be facilitated by an academic tutor who has specialist expertise in the areas of personal and organisational development, leadership and action learning. Action learning sets will entail participants working as a group to define, analyse and reach conclusions to management and leadership issues being faced at individual and organisational levels.

Each student will identify key improvements in their workplace which they wish to bring about during the course of the programme. The action learning set meetings will be a forum for discussing how to achieve these improvements and for applying leadership and improvement concepts and tools to workplace situations.

Students will be expected to do preparatory work for each learning meeting, based on academic reading, diagnostic tools and support materials made available to them as part of the programme. This module will also require them to prepare and maintain a personal development plan (non-assessed), keep a formal structured written learning journal (non-assessed) documenting a critical reflective analysis of their individual action learning and personal development, and undertake a 360º narrative feedback.

You will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the theoretical concepts and models of action learning.
  • Access action learning as an approach that supports leadership and organisational development.
  • Reflect and critically analyse your personal leadership experience and approach, located within theoretical concepts of leadership and learning, and
  • Be confident in your personal leadership practice and using a structured action learning approach as a vehicle for personal and organisational development.

The module will begin with a two-day introductory workshop, including one day for initial action learning set meetings. This will be followed by a further five one-day action learning set meetings during the course of the module. The module will finish with a two-day closing workshop, including a final action learning set meeting.

Health Care Quality: Innovation and Improvement (20 credits)

Module Lead(s): Iain Snelling; Ross Millar

This module aims to provide participants with knowledge about approaches to the measurement, monitoring and improvement of quality in health care, including methods of data collection and analysis. It includes examination of approaches such as performance indicators, clinical audit, benchmarking, complaints, patient surveys, and health outcomes. The module also discusses policy and approaches used in different countries to the monitoring of quality and safety in health care.

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

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the use of different tools and techniques for the management, measurement and improvement of service quality in health care.
  • Critically assess the development of performance indicators and other ways of measuring and assessing quality in healthcare.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to quality and service improvement in health care

Introduction to Organisational Development in Health and Social Care (20 credits)

Module Lead(s): Robin Miller; Kim Jelphs

This module examines organisational development (OD) exploring the conceptual frameworks and scholarly practices within which OD is situated. This includes the core theories, values, and principles that underpin the different approaches that have emerged in this field, since the 1960s, how these relate (or not) to what is happening in health and social care, different strategies, types and approaches to change as well as diagnostic models for analysing organisations and exploring approaches to intervening in change. Throughout the module, attention is paid to the importance of both the process (how change is enacted) and the anticipated outcomes of change (what actions are taken). The module draws on lessons from the literature and the practical experience of those involved in planning and delivering change in health and social care services.

By the end of this module, students should be able to: 

  • Understand the origins and definitions of organisation development (OD) and be able to articulate the strengths and weaknesses of this approach
  • Examine the ways in which OD has influenced (or not) processes of change in health and social care today
  • Analyse organisations through use of diagnostic models and how this informs choices about intervening
  • Be aware of a range of approaches to change interventions.
  • Reflect on the application of theories, concepts and models within health and social care contexts, including how people respond to, and work with change.

The method of delivery will combine traditional lectures with a range of more innovative approaches including individual, group and whole cohort inquiry and application; an organisational consultation; and relevant health and social care case studies. This module is taken in two blocks (three and two days).

I felt the modules were very well organised, delivered and concluded, as they have covered all aspects and different views to look at quality and service improvement. The group work was most useful as it stimulated a lot of thinking and helped picking up things that are not too obvious from just reading."

Public and User Involvement in Health Care (20 credits)

Module Lead(s): Hilary Brown; Karen Newbigging

The relationship between providers and users of health and social care services is changing, and governments in many countries are encouraging greater involvement of users and the public in the planning and development of services. Underlying these changes is the belief that services will be more accessible, acceptable and responsive if the people who use them are involved in their design and development. At the same time, there has been a strong drive to encourage people to assume greater responsibility for their health and to practise self-care wherever possible and appropriate. In the UK, The Wanless Report (2002) argued that the financial sustainability of the NHS critically depends on the population being 'fully engaged' in their own health care.

At the end of the module students will be able to:

  • Understand the development of consumerism in health care and be able to critically appraise the application of the concept to the NHS. 
  • Appreciate the place of consumer approaches within the wider context of the role of service users, users’ groups, communities and the public in healthcare.
  • Compare different methods for obtaining the views of users, the public and communities.

This module is taken in two blocks (three and two days).

Credits and optional modules

These compulsory modules total 100 credits. In order to fulfil the Programme Requirements you need to obtain 120 credits in taught modules. You can do this by selecting one further optional module. Below are a selection of modules available (each worth 20 credits):

Please note that the detailed content of the programmes is regularly updated in line with developments in theory, policy and practice: HSMC reserves the right to make adjustments to this indicative programme outline as appropriate.

The optional modules listed on the website for this programme may unfortunately occasionally be subject to change. As you will appreciate key members of staff may leave the University and this necessitates a review of the modules that are offered. Where the module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can help you make other choices.

To learn more about this MSc please telephone 0121 414 2280 or email Jose Adkins, j.e.adkins@bham.ac.uk.

Fees and funding

Fees for 2016-2017: 


£5,535 Code: 6251 (UK/EU part time)
£4,710 Code: 6254 (UK/EU part time)
£4,710  Code: 6252 (UK/EU part time)

*Fees for the second year are likely to rise with inflation/increases in University fees generally. Please check with the Centre for the latest fees information. 

Postgraduate Loans for Masters students

The new postgraduate loans system for Masters degrees in the UK will be introduced for students commencing in the 2016-17 academic year. As part of the UK’s Chancellor’s 2014 Autumn Statement, the government has reconfirmed its commitment to loans for postgraduate Masters degrees as part of the 2015 Spending Review.

The government-backed student loans will provide up to £10,000 for taught and research Masters courses in all subject areas.  Detailed criteria and information regarding the application process is expected in early 2016. For more detailed information view our Postgraduate funding page

Learn more about fees and funding

Entry requirements

The normal entry requirement for a Masters programme is a good Honours degree (upper second or better) or an equivalent professional qualification.  However, there are circumstances when appropriate career experience may be taken into account as an alternative to an academic qualification. In such circumstances, applicants may be asked to provide evidence of their ability to produce work of a postgraduate standard. If you have any queries about this, or would like to discuss your individual circumstances please do not hesitate to contact us.

In addition to the normal requirements, applicants must be in employment in a health care-related organisation at the time the programme starts in order to optimise the application of theory and the action learning elements of the programme. In the event of a student no longer being in such employment during the programme, arrangements will be made to ensure this does not detract from their learning by drawing on their recent relevant work experience. For admission to the programme, applicants will be required to satisfy the programme director that they have scope within their work experience to apply learning from the programme to service improvement by means of the action learning sets and to identify desired outcomes from participation in the programme.

Learn more about entry requirements

International students:

We accept a range of qualifications from different countries – our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country. 

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

  • by holding an English language qualification to the right level
  • by taking and successfully completing one of our English courses for international students

How to apply

Learn more about applying

All applicants will need to complete a Supplementary Application Form when applying for the Leadership in Health Services Improvement. Please complete the form and upload it at the end of your application as an ‘other’ supporting document 

Tel: +44 (0)121 414 2280
Email: j.e.adkins@bham.ac.uk  

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

Our programmes provide a challenging and inspiring study experience for both existing and aspiring practitioners in health and social care organisations. They equip participants with the knowledge, skills and confidence to develop both their careers and organisations.

HSMC staff bring their wide knowledge of UK and international health systems (gained through research and consultancy activities, as well as their own professional experience) to their teaching and tutorial support for students.

This emphasis on combining theory and practice is maintained throughout all of our programmes, from the choice of titles for assignments, through the involvement of practitioners and policy makers in teaching activities, to the topics selected for dissertations.

While some students choose to concentrate on theoretical topics, many students carry out empirical studies for their dissertation, often related to their own place of work or area of professional expertise.


Postgraduate programmes are taught at Park House which is a short walk from the centre of the University campus and provides a comfortable and well-appointed study environment. Facilities include:

Just a few steps away is the University’s Conference Park, which provides an excellent hotel environment for those wishing to be residential for taught modules.

HSMC students have access to the University’s main library and substantial online journals, databases and other materials via Canvas. A Programme Handbook provides comprehensive advice and information, and a separate handbook is provided for each module.

Participants are assigned an academic tutor to guide them through their studies and bespoke dissertation workshops are held throughout the year. Students are encouraged to engage as much as possible with HSMC staff and to participate in other events such as conferences, seminars and workshops. Part-time participants are encouraged to enlist a work-based mentor to provide assistance with their dissertations and translating their learning back into the workplace.

If you require further information about any of our courses, please telephone 0121 414 2280 or email j.e.adkins@bham.ac.uk.

Assessment methods

Most modules are assessed through a 3,000 word assignment at the end of the module and a shorter assignment within the module.

The MSc dissertation is 10,000 words and worth 60 credits. It is a personally chosen and managed research project, undertaken over the duration of the programme with formal research training incorporated.

Related research

The MSc in Leadership for Health Service Improvement, is aimed at those already employed in a health care-related organisation at the time the programme starts in order to optimise the application of theory and the action learning elements of the programme. In the event of a student no longer being in such employment during the programme, arrangements will be made to ensure this does not detract from their learning by drawing on their recent relevant work experience.

Very enlightening. It has opened my eyes to areas that I had previously dismissed in terms of importance. I have found it very useful in identifying new ways of approaching difficult situations or tasks."