As first announced by E-Health Insider, Capita has been unveiled as the preferred bidder to deliver NHS Choices for the next three years.

The surprise announcement means that current service provider Dr Foster Intelligence has failed to win the £80m procurement run by the Department of Health. Dr Foster Intelligence won the initial 18-month contract to establish and run the NHS Choices website, but this will end in August this year.

More than 70 expressions of interest were received for the new contract. Capita was eventually selected as preferred supplier ahead of five others short listed: Dr Foster, Serco, Fujitsu, IBM and Tata Consultancy.

The final report of Lord Darzi of Denham’s Next Stage Review of the NHS, published earlier this month, gives NHS Choices a critical role in driving choice and quality in the NHS.

The Health Informatics Review also indicates that the portal is seen as an essential vehicle for empowering citizens with information and tools to interact with the health service.

Launched two years ago, stage five of the development of NHS Choices was reached last week with the publication of mortality rates for four cardiac surgical procedures.

The DH says site usage is continuing to grow and that it had approximately 2.5 million visits in June: up 35% on the start of the year.

Under European procurement law there remain a number of important steps before the final contract is awarded, but one source indicated Capita was 90% of the way there. The final contract is expected to commence in “early autumn.”