Differences between policy and strategy, and the impact of policies on health

As the number of policy directives received by health professionals increases it is worth outlining the difference between policy and strategy in the context of health care.

The relationships between policy, strategy, and planning with examples:





Specific principles adopted by organisations, teams, etc, often based as much on politics as information. Heavily influenced by objective information, politics, public opinion, and the media (but not necessarily in that order),

The key steps that need to be taken (that wouldn’t happen anyway) that are critical to achieving the changes needed over 5 years.  Needs to be supported by good intelligence. However, such input should not unduly restrain creative thinking,

All the steps that need to be taken to achieve the key steps of the strategy. Progression takes place in small, incremental and predictable steps.

Example: It is the policy of the ambulance service to take severely injured people to trauma centres not necessarily the nearest emergency department,

Example: the strategic intent of the local health department is to ensure that within 5 years nowhere in the area is more than 30 mins ambulance travel time from a trauma centre,

Example: the detailed day-to-day project plan of how the local trauma service will be developed over the next year,


(Pencheon et al 2008:378)  


Understanding the links between ‘policy and strategy’ and the concepts of ‘culture and change’, within organisational environments, are important in terms of, ’doing things right’ and ‘doing the right things’. The principles and values identified within policy directs both the context and content of strategic development and where these are not aligned, the development and outcomes of strategic operations can become unsustainable.







© S Markwell 2009, C Beynon 2017