The Department of Health (DH) has revealed that it spent £27.9m on developing and running the NHS Choices website during 2008 to 2009.
The cost, which covers the planning, designing, building, hosting and infrastructure, content provision and testing and evaluation of the website, does not include internal staff costs.
Phil Hope, Minister of State for Care Services at the DH, provided the details in a parliamentary written answer.
In 2008 to 2009, the highest portion of the total cost was spent on strategy and planning for the website (£8.8m), more than double (62%) the amount spent the previous year (£3.3m).
This was closely followed by the cost of design and build (£7.5m), which had increased from £4.3m the previous year, and content provision (£7.2m), which had also seen a two-fold increase compared with 2007 to 2008 (£3.01m).
Meanwhile, the total cost of NHS Choices is also expected to reach £21.3m in the period 2009 to 2010, with most of the budget, £6.4m, being allocated to the website's design and build.
NHS Choices went live mid-June 2007 and recorded 778,124 unique visitors the following month, according to a parliamentary written answer on March 25, 2008. Another parliamentary written answer on June 24, 2009 revealed that the website had 5,295,640 unique visitors a month in May 2009.
Analyst group Forrester in its 2009 Web Site Spending Trends report found that in 2009 commercial websites with five million or more monthly unique visitors, companies were spending an average of US$9.29m (around £5.7m) a year on their site. This included internal employees' salaries as well as spending on software, hardware, hosting, development, integration, maintenance, and content development and site management. Sites with 500,000 to less than five million unique visitors spent on average US$2.70m (£1.65m).
Based on this data, DH is spending £22.2m, or nearly four times, more than the average US website with the same number of unique visitors.
The costs associated with the NHS Choices website are significantly larger than those relating to the DH's corporate website, www.dh.gov.uk. However, this website has seen a growth in total cost from £2.04m in the period 2007 to 2008 to an expected £2.5m this year.
According to the DH, since June 27, 2007, it has reduced the total number of websites it operates from 196 to 71. Its ultimate goal is to reduce the total to just two websites by July 2011.
NHS Choices did not respond to requests for comment at the time of writing.
Last March, the cost of running new Web 2.0 elements of the NHS Choices website was heavily criticised by Colin Talbot, a professor of public policy at Manchester Business School, who lambasted the government for investing large sums of public money on creating a reviews website, something that the independent sector appeared to do quite well already.
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