Public spending watchdog the National Audit Office has once again delayed the publication of its report into the £6.2 billion National Programme for IT.

E-Health Insider has learned that the eagerly awaited report, originally due to be published in July 2005, is now not expected to be released until "summer 2006" at the earliest, a publication date that may yet slip further.

Asked to confirm the summer 2006 date a spokesperson for the NAO told EHI: "We are now looking at that kind of timescale".

The spokesperson confirmed, however, that when published the report would be up-to-date and not simply based on the situation as was in summer 2005. "It will take into account developments up to the time of publication."

The report was first announced by the NAO in August 2004, two years after the programme was launched and eight months after the National Programme for IT has awarded contracts to its prime contractors, with publication scheduled for summer 2005.

According to a memorandum by the NAO’s comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourne, "The study examines the procurement processes used for placing the contracts; whether the contracts are likely to deliver good value for money; how the Department is implementing the programme; and the progress made by the programme so far."

However, in August 2005 the publication date was pushed back to November 2005. By December last year the NAO had revised this to a publication date in February or March 2006.

The later the report is published the more difficult it is likely to be to apply any lessons from the report or take any remedial actions recommended to the ten year NHS IT programme.

A spokesperson for NHS Connecting for Health told EHI that the agency had "not yet commented on or responded to" a draft of the NAO’s eagerly awaited report.

Asked to clarify whether the Department of Health agency had seen a copy of the report, the spokesperson said: "We’ve not yet seen a copy of what we expect to be the draft report."

All NAO reports are reviewed and the factual content commented on by the relevant government department, under a process known as clearance. Reports may go through multiple revisions and changes before a final draft is agreed. Only after a final draft has been agreed does the NAO proceed to publication.

It is not unknown for government departments to deliberately spin this process out to delay what they perceive to be potentially embarrassing reports.

Both the DH and CfH were embarrassed by the NAO’s January 2005 report on the slow progress on Choose and Book. It stated that the system was unreliable and accurately predicted that the December 2005 deadline for the system to be implemented nationally would be missed unless corrective action were taken.