NHS Choices budget in eyepopping detail

A written answer in response to Conservative MP Grant Shapps has provided the best breakdown I’ve yet seen of spending on NHS Choices, one of the government’s three £20m mega-portals. You kinda know what’s coming, don’t you?

Strategy and planning:        £3,291,659.57
Design and build              £4,266,748.79
Hosting and infrastructure    £1,871,933.81
Content provision             £3,010,242.69
Testing and evaluation        £1,236,993.29
Total                        £13,677,578.14
Strategy and planning:        £8,764,040.54
Design and build              £7,470,562.03
Hosting and infrastructure    £3,169,335.95
Content provision             £7,156,673.03
Testing and evaluation        £1,300.208.47
Total                        £27,860,820.02
Strategy and planning:        £5,845,541.38
Design and build              £6,377,614.00
Hosting and infrastructure    £2,610,803.31
Content provision             £5,448,688.20
Testing and evaluation        £1,023,417.78
Total                        £21,306,064.66

I’m not sure which figure jumps out at me the most; they’re all eyepoppingly large. It’s probably the £8.76m on strategy and planning in 2008-9 – which, let’s note, doesn’t include the £1.3m on testing and evaluation. And since it’s broken out separately, you have to assume that the costs allocated to the other categories are actual production costs, ie ‘strategy’ not included..?
The easiest to justify is probably ‘content provision’ – although it’s a genuine surprise to see it third on the list of priorities behind ‘design and build’ (of a site that’s already been largely designed and built already?) and ‘strategy and planning’.

5 thoughts on “NHS Choices budget in eyepopping detail”

  1. They are big numbers for sure, but I think you need to put them in context a little.
    It’s the website of the 4th largest employer in the world or whatever the NHS is and has 2m+ users a week. So it’s inevitably going to be a costly thing to run.
    Having a look through the site they’ve got so many pages, different templates, different types of content, services, directories, data, syndication, UGC etc… so it’s going to cost a lot to design, build, provide the content and test/evaluate it. It has to look good, work well and not fall over, or else it’d be pretty embarrassing.
    Also seems to me it’s not necessarily that content is third in the priority list, more that it’s cheaper to produce content than it is to design, build and test the pages and templates on which it sits.
    Saying something costs £80m over 3 years is an easy way of taking a pot shot (especially in the current climate), but you need to look at what it saves. How many GP or hospital consultations saved? On swine flu, how many people read the info. Millions I bet.
    And what’s the alternative? No national NHS website & tons of local ones? One done on the cheap? Grant Shapps should do an FOI asking each PCT & hospital trust what they spend on their sites – I bet that would be eye-popping.

  2. I’m not for one minute suggesting that the NHS shouldn’t have a first-rate national website; or that such a site isn’t worth paying for.
    What I am questioning, for example, is the spending of £8.7m last year, and £5.8m this year, on ‘strategy and planning’. By my rough calculation, £5.8m would buy you 30-odd consultants working full-time at £600/day ex VAT.
    Content absolutely should be the #1 priority for the site, if it isn’t already. I’d much rather have a modest technical solution filled with magnificent content, than vice versa.

  3. I agree with the first comment – this is a tiny sum in relation to the NHS budget (£100bn+) and is not out of line with the build costs of large private sector sites. Moreover, it is v likely to actually save taxpayers money because it stops people using frontline services so much. 15m have visited the NHS Choices swine flu pages since the outbreak started, for example. If those pages did not exist many of those people would have been booking unnecessary hospital/GP appointments etc which would have cost much more.
    Simon, I would take the spending put down to ‘strategy and planning’ with a pinch of salt. No categories are listed for marketing, project management, governance, accounting, HR, general management etc, so it looks to me as if they have just dumped it all under the ‘strategy and planning’ section – hence its size.

  4. As Director of Strategy for NHS Choices I would agree £8m on Strategy and Planning is a big figure but I have to say not one I recognise. I think if we unbundled it would make more sense.Looks like they’ve bundled lots of bits and pieces in there.
    However, on the general point these are start-up project costs which will start reducing over the coming years and compared to the £110m the BBC are spending its small beer. Also you need to look at the benefits as well as the costs. We now have an average of 8m visits a month and a wealth of content and data which we distribute freely to anyone. For the first time the public have a trusted source of NHS health information on the web and in time we will be able to provide services that make using the NHS as simple as online banking.
    If you compare that reach and potential to other IT projects and I think we can make a pretty good case that it represents good value for money. But would be happy to talk this through – 020 7972 5546

  5. I don’t see a line in these budgets for search engine optimisation. Is that why it seems impossible to find NHS direct via Google? The first site returned by a search for NHS direct, with or without quotes, is http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/ which appears to be dead and has been for over a week. Third on the list is http://www.nhs.uk/conditions which leads us to the NHS Options site.
    What has happened to NHS Direct? Has it been replaced by NHS Options? If so, why after so much money was spent on branding and marketing NHS Direct?
    My guess is that when you’ve spent a few million on developing a website strategy you simply can’t reach the conclusion that what you’re already doing is fine. So change it will, regardless of the confusion it causes.
    Anyway, do try to sort out your forwarding guys – it really is very easy and should cost no more than one or two million to sort out.

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