The Department of Health has begun an investigation into how an "unauthorised" sponsored link on Google was acquired for NHS Connecting for Health, which runs the NHS's £12.4bn National Programme for IT (NPfIT).
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The companies that advertise on Google by way of links that are usually paid for include eBay, Experian, Yahoo, Time Warner Inc, Pickamortgage, Best-Chat.net and Amazon. It is not usual for a government department or agency advertise itself on Google.
A sponsored link for NHS Connecting for Health had appeared in a panel on some Google search results. It is unclear whether the cost of the advertising - which a minister denies was borne by taxpayers - would have been in line with the potential benefits to patients.
Sponsored links in general appear in a coloured panel at the top of the search results page, and in a narrow column on the right-hand side of the page. Both areas include a small heading identifying the results as sponsored.
In answer to a question by Stephen O'Brien, Tory Shadow health minister, the then health minister Caroline Flint said, "This link was established by a communications agency contracted to NHS Connecting for Health without authorisation and without consultation on the search criteria used. This was part of a wider programme of initiatives to improve communications about the Connecting for Health programme. The arrangement has been terminated. No costs have been borne by NHS Connecting for Health or indeed by the taxpayer.
"We are exploring with the agency concerned the circumstances under which this arrangement was made and the terms under which it operated, including the search criteria." The results of the government's investigation will be placed in the library of the House of Commons, said Flint who has since switched ministerial jobs and is no longer in the Department of Health.