DH to award £80m contract for NHS Choices

  • 4 December 2007

The Department of Health has gone out to tender to find a new supplier to run the NHS Choices patient information website, in a lucrative three year deal initially worth £60-80m.

The chosen supplier will be expected to generate in excess of 20m hits to the NHS Choices website, together with generating significant revenue from the flagship service.

In 2007 Dr Foster Intelligence, a joint venture by the NHS Information Centre and Dr Foster, was appointed by the DH to establish the service, and deliver and run the website through to March 2008.

E-Health Insider understands that responses to the new DH tender are expected from many of the large firms currently involved in the NHS IT programme.

In its tender notice, now closed, the DH wrote: “The supplier will be responsible for expanding and operating the existing NHS Choices web service and, as the service evolves, investigation, and where needed development and operation of other electronic channels including mobile, kiosk and iDTV (Integrated Digital Television).

The tender document adds: “The supplier will be responsible for the majority of the business functions of the service including input into strategic direction, customer and market management, relations management with users and professionals, programme and technical development management and delivery and operations, including editorial and data content provision and publishing, live technical services operation and insight and feedback.”

A DH spokesperson said: “The tender commenced on October 26 and is expected to last approximately 7 months.

“The expected value of the procurement is between £60m and £80m, which is comparable to the cost of other significant services such as Directgov. The contract is for an initial period of 3 years, with the potential for up to 2 years extension.”

The DH gave a presentation on the website last month at DH offices in Skipton House, London, to answer questions on the procurement. Podcasts and hard copies were promised to those who could not attend. EHI requested copies, but the DH had not responded by time of publication.

Governance of the website will be retained by the DH but the government says it “now requires a professional, innovative, private sector supplier to manage and operate it.”

The service offers a wide range of accredited health information and services, from ‘Live Well’ magazine content aimed at specific audiences, through comprehensive Health A-Z for conditions and treatments information and health services directories, scorecards and user feedback.

In a recent exclusive interview with EHI, Matt Tee, chief executive officer of NHS Direct said that the future relationship between NHS Direct and NHS Choices will partly be determined by the procurement.

Tee told EHI that the NHS Choices project had been partly born out of the government’s frustration at the slow adoption of the choice policy by the public.

A source close to the NHS Choices project told EHI: “The DH are aware of all the negative press which has been surrounding the launch of the NHS Choices website and are keen to move in a different direction from the issues they have currently been facing. By outsourcing the service, they hope it can build a stronger online presence and community and earn respect from NHS staff and medical bodies.”

When the website was launched in June, Bruce Keogh, chair of the NHS Choices Clinical Advisory Group, told NHS staff: “You will see the first version of what can become one of the most useful health websites in the world.”

However, the new website was criticised by the British Medical Association as overloading patients with useless information that could cause unnecessary anxiety. The Patients’ Association said it is a waste of money and any extra resources should be put into services dealing directly with patients.

GPs checking their details on the website told EHIPC that information on the site was up to six years out-of-date.

In response, the DH recently released software allowing GPs to update their own details but as EHIPC reported last month more than 200 GP practices were sent offensive passwords, to access their data, which had to be recalled.

The source added: “The website has been promoted heavily over the last two to three years and the DH is desperate for it not to fail. It hopes to find a supplier willing to work with the users to ensure it gets the recognition they feel it deserves as part of their commitment to choice.”


NHS Choices

Dr Foster Intelligence  


Joe Fernandez

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